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Clay County jury finds in favor of DePauw University faculty member

Monday, November 3, 2003

"The current DePauw administration is anti-Christian," Janis Price said Saturday. She had received a unanimous jury verdict in her lawsuit against the university the day before. "The reason so many faculty members are supporting me is because the anti-Christian harassment is blatantly obvious."

The jury deliberated for seven hours Friday after the five-day trial concluded in Clay County Circuit Court last week. Price was awarded $10,401, the amount her salary had been cut for one year. Presiding Judge Diana LaViolette of Putnam Co. Circuit Court will determine who will pay legal fees.

Price, who had been an instructor at the 2,300 student liberal arts university in Greencastle, Ind., for 13 years, did not expect to go to court when she was dismissing her class in May of 2001. The course she taught was for students who were going to be student teachers..

As she had done in years past, Price made available some old issues of "Teachers in Focus". The monthly education magazines, published by Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family, are written from a Christian perspective. She made it clear to the students that it was Christian-based material so if they weren't interested they need not bother to take it.

"There were articles on math, English, class management, a variety of subjects," Price said. "Their usage was not on the syllabus and there were no assignments requiring their use. I just made them available. Students could pick up whatever interested them."

One issue featured a cover story on homosexuality.

"A student, Angela Morris, looked through the magazine then asked, 'Mrs. Price, What do you think of homosexuality?' I said, If a school corporation hires you to teach English then you need to do the best job you can do to teach English."

Price assumed that was the end of that. She assumed wrong. Apparently Morris complained about the homosexuality article to another education professor and eventually the complaint ended up with Neal Abraham, DePauw's vice president for academic affairs.

According to Price, she is well known on campus as a born-again Christian. Plus she has been a faculty sponsor of a Christian based student led organization.

Price said she has been criticized by DePauw administrators for her religious beliefs and activities. She has complained, herself, on several different occasions, about being harassed for her faith but nothing was ever done.

Within six weeks after Morris complained, however, Price was called in by Abraham and quizzed about both her teaching practices and her faith.

According to Price, two weeks later she was called back. Abraham accused Price of professional intolerance for providing students with certain magazines he described as anti-gay literature. She said Abraham told her, "We can not tolerate the intolerable."

Price was told her position was being changed. Four of her titles were taken away: Instructor, director of field experience student placement, head of audio/visual department and licensing adviser. She was relieved of actual duties as instructor and head of audio/visual department. And her pay was cut by 25 per cent, which amounted to $10,401. She remained an administrator in DePauw's education department.

Price later sued DePauw claiming they had violated her freedom of speech, freedom of religion, academic freedom and that they did not follow their own academic handbook in releasing her from her class.

Ken Owen, director of media relation at DePauw said in a press release that Janis Price and her attorney, John Price (no relation), had initially sued the University claiming DePauw had reduced her duties because of her religious views. But in March, Putnam Circuit Court Judge Diana LaViolette dismissed Price's claims that DePauw had violated her freedom of speech, freedom of religion and academic freedom.

When asked why Mrs. Price was given a reduction in salary and job status, Owen said by phone Saturday, "There was a decline in enrollment in the class she was teaching. That was the main reason. Also, There were complaints from a student and complaints that she demonstrated unprofessional conduct. A Clay County jury has decided that DePauw University did not properly follow its faculty handbook when reducing the duties of Janis Price."

When asked to respond to Mrs. Price's comment that DePauw's Administration was anti-Christian, Owen said, "This is a highly Christian university. It was founded by the Methodist Church. That comment would be very damaging. I urge you not to print that. ....

"This case is not about religion," Owen continued. "The instructions to the jurors included no language about harassment or religion. This is a case of contract law, plain and simple, and that's what the jury decided on.

"Obviously, we're very disappointed. But there's a strong paper trail in the case. We think the court will reverse the decision on appeal," Owen said. Janis Price said "The university wants people to think it's about the academic handbook but it isn't. I didn't file this suit to make money," Price continued. "I did this because my Christian beliefs have been assaulted.

"We had nine witnesses: Brooke Hefner another student present at the time; Dan Puckett, Principal at Central Elementary in the South Putnam School Corp.; Marie Theobald, executive director of Indiana Professional Standards Board; and five other DePauw employees. One of those is a man who helped write the academic handbook and one is a man who is a gay activist on campus. He read the article and while he disagreed with it said he was not offended by it. And he said that I was a perfect example of how he wants to be treated by someone who disagrees with him.

"DePauw had only two witnesses. Angela Morris, the student who initially complained and is no longer a student at DePauw, and Neal Abraham the vice president of academic affairs."

Price said the course she taught was required so the class size stayed the same, subject only to the number of students taking that course of study.

"Neal Abraham wrote a 3 1/2 page letter saying the issue was hate and anti-gay literature," Price said. "The center piece of the lawsuit was a copy of that 'Teachers in Focus' magazine. How is it that I am to be tolerant of others but they don't have to be tolerant of me?"

Attorney John Price said, "The religious harassment count was dismissed but the jury was allowed to hear a great deal of religious evidence because that was part of the case and it was acceptable by the judge."

"DePauw used to have a wonderful reputation," Janis Price said. "And they still have many wonderful people and programs. But it's changed in the last 10 years."

"Since the jury had a unanimous verdict in favor of me, it would seem that the University was intolerant of my Christian faith and that six jurors from Clay County clearly recognized that fact," Price said. "They recognized that the academic handbook was not followed because of the administration's discrimination against my Christian faith."

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