\nGEORGIA – Fort Valley State University’s former newspaper\nadviser has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the university\nand three of its administrators. The suit alleges that his firing\nwas the result of press censorship and racial bias.
John Schmitt’s contract was not renewed in the spring of 1998\nafter he had spent one year as an assistant professor of mass\ncommunications at the school. Schmitt, who is white, also advised\nThe Peachite at the rural, predominately black campus,\n25 miles southwest of Macon.
Schmitt said the award-winning pieces his students wrote for\nThe Peachite were not what administrators wanted.
One story alleged that Josephine Davis, the university vice\npresident for academic affairs, engaged in questionable financial\ndealings in her former position at a New York university. Another\nstory claimed that campus security may not have properly treated\na student’s asthma attack. The student later died.
“There is no question that the dismissal was, in part,\nan attempt to censor the newspaper,” Schmitt said.
Hollie Manheimer, a Decatur-based American Civil Liberties\nUnion attorney who is representing Schmitt, explained in the complaint\nthat Schmitt’s firing resulted from “exercise of freedom\nof speech and press and because he was allegedly part of a ‘white,\nJewish, male conspiracy.'”
That claim refers to a comment allegedly made about Schmitt\nby Davis, a black female. Davis is one an administrator named\nin the suit, along with President Oscar Prater and Isaac Crumbly,\ndean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Arlethia Perry-Johnson, assistant vice chancellor of media\nand publications for the state university system, said she could\nnot comment on the lawsuit. Leslie Harriell, director of public\nrelations for Fort Valley, did not return a call to her office.\n
In addition to the lawsuit, Schmitt has asked several organizations\nfor help, including the American Association of University Professors,\nCollege Media Advisers and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.\n
After an investigation, College Media Advisers voted to censure\nFort Valley State–only the second time in its history that the\norganization has deemed censuring necessary.
“Universities are getting away with murder as far as the\nFirst Amendment is concerned,” CMA President Mark Witherspoon\nsaid. He added that the CMA’s censuring includes publicizing the\ncase by writing letters to publications such as The Atlanta\nJournal-Constitution, The Chronicle of Higher Education,\nEditor and Publisher and newspapers in the Fort Valley\narea.
Schmitt spent this past school year as a visiting assistant\nprofessor of journalism and newspaper co-adviser at Indiana University\nSoutheast in New Albany. Manheimer said that Schmitt is now in\nEurope, where he has accepted a teaching position for the upcoming\nschool year. He has welcomed other opportunities, but Schmitt\nmisses The Peachite. “I would love to have [my job]\nback, because I met some of the finest students I ever taught\nthere,” he said. “I think it would be very difficult\nfor all concerned if I were to return, but I would still like\nthe opportunity.”\n