Ombud office to open this semester

Appalachian State University has created an ombudsman position, in part because of a controversy over a sociologist professor’s comments regarding allegations of sexual assault by student athletes.

The ombudsman will hear the sorts of complaints that arose at ASU last year after students said tenured sociology professor Jammie Price made disparaging comments about student athletes and showed a film about the pornography industry in her class.

Following a university investigation into the students’ complaints, Price was placed on administrative leave with pay last March and given a professional development plan to address what university investigators said were “hostile” teaching methods.

Price, who did not immediately return a request for comment, has made many of the university’s actions against her known on an extensive Facebook page, as well as a website called Jammie’s Place.

On the latter site are posted several pieces of correspondence that purport to be between the university and Price.

One document posted there, on ASU letterhead and dated March 16, 2012, alleges that four students enrolled in her sociology class claimed Price “made disparaging, inaccurate remarks” about student athletes indicating “they are given special privileges on campus.” Price also, the letter states, made “inaccurate, inflammatory remarks about recent sexual assault cases involving student athletes,” creating a “hostile environment” for student athletes in her class.

Price also did not follow the course syllabus and spent class time espousing her political views instead of teaching, the letter states. It also claims she showed a documentary on pornography. The letter, purportedly signed by Anthony Gene Carey, vice provost for faculty affairs, states that as of March 16, Price would be placed on administrative leave with pay pending the completion of a school investigation.

A letter of response posted on Jammie’s Place, purportedly written by Price, calls the allegations “baseless,” stating that Price shared her political views only when students asked and that race, sports and sexuality are part of sociology and the class syllabus. The video aired in her class, “The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships,” (a video Price contends she checked out of the university library) contains “interviews from several well-known and well-respected scholars,” the letter states.

“Although I try to maintain an open and positive environment in my class, part of the learning process for some students may be moving past the discomfort they feel when faced with core concepts in an introductory-level sociology class,” the letter states.

Price was reinstated to teach the fall 2012 semester. Though an ASU faculty review committee concluded in October that the administration had impinged upon Price’s academic freedom, Chancellor Ken Peacock refused to set aside the professional development plan devised for Price. On Dec. 22, Price appealed the chancellor’s decision to the university’s board of trustees.

Without directly referring to Price in a December email to Wmforo responding to questions regarding the link between Price and the ombudsman position, Provost Lori Stewart Gonzalez said that “the need for (an ombudsman) came to light last year,” her first year on campus. “I would say the events on campus last year reinforced the need for such a position.”

“Many campuses have this position,” she wrote. “At my previous institution, there was an academic ombud to deal with faculty/student concerns. It was a model that worked very well and one I thought would be of use here at Appalachian.”

The faculty review committee said the Price controversy could have been avoided had a formal protocol been established by which the complaining students and Price could have talked.

The ombudsman position will be filled temporarily by Jim Barnes, a political science professor at ASU, Gonzalez said.

“The office of the ombud will provide all members of the Appalachian community with a neutral, impartial and confidential environment to discuss individual concerns of faculty, staff and students,” Gonzalez said in an email to faculty and staff in announcing Barnes’ appointment.

“The ombud will assist, when needed, in clarifying university issues and policies. He will also serve as a neutral party in resolving disputes, as well as providing referrals to other ASU offices and resources for conflict resolution.”

Gonzalez said the university plans to open the ombudsman’s office during the spring semester. Barnes, who will be ombudsman on a part-time basis, will continue his research and teaching, Gonzalez said.

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Paul Clark is a contributing reporter for Wmforo. Contact him at [email protected].

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