Adviser to sue school for refusing to renew contract

GEORGIA – The former newspaper adviser at FortValley State University says he plans to sue the school afterhis contract was not renewed in the spring of 1998.

John Schmitt, who advised The Peachite at the rural, predominatelyblack campus, 25 miles outside of Macon, says that the investigativepieces his students wrote were not what administrators wantedto read.

One award-winning story alleged that the university vice presidentfor academic affairs engaged in questionable financial dealingsat her former university position in New York. Another claimedthat campus security may not have properly treated a student’sasthma attack. The student later died.

“There is no question that the dismissal was, in part, anattempt to censor the newspaper,” Schmitt said.

Hollie Manheimer, a Decatur-based ACLU attorney who is representingSchmitt, said that a lawsuit is in the works, and a 30-page complaintshould be written by the end of June.

In addition to the lawsuit, Schmitt has asked several organizationsfor help, including the AmericanAssociation of University Professors, the CollegeMedia Advisers and the GeorgiaFirst Amendment Foundation.

After an investigation, the College Media Advisers voted to censureFort Valley State — only the second time in its history thatthey have deemed censuring necessary.

“Universities are getting away with murder as far as theFirst Amendment is concerned,” CMA President Mark Witherspoonsaid.

He added that the CMA’s censuring includes publicizing the caseby writing letters to publications such as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,The Chronicle of Higher Education, Editor and Publisherand newspapers in the Fort Valley area.

Schmitt has spent the last year as a visiting assistant professorof journalism at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. Healso was co-adviser of the university’s newspaper. He has beenoffered a position to study in Bulgaria for the upcoming schoolyear.

“I am seriously considering taking it,” he said.