MISSOURI — A former college newspaper adviser filed a lawsuit inJune against Central Missouri State University, alleging her terminationwas in response to stories covered in the school’s newspaper.
Barbara Lach-Smith, who advised the Muleskinner staff for sixyears, said her contract was not renewed because of stories uncoveringunusual stipulations in outgoing university President Ed Elliott’s contract,including $620,000 in severance pay, special benefits for Elliott’s wifeand personal computer services.
James Rynard, Lach-Smith’s attorney, said he can prove that the schoolviolated Lach-Smith’s civil rights and infringed on students’ First Amendmentrights.
“We’re very confident in our claims,” Rynard said. “I think that we’regoing to see a big fight by the university; they are probably going toclaim they followed all the proper procedures and there was no retaliation,but I think we have a strong case to show that that was indeed the case.I think we can show their alleged following of procedures was just pretext,that they had every intent to not allow her to continue in the job.”
Muleskinner staff members started to look into administrators’contracts after the school’s board of governors violated the state’s sunshinelaw by holding a closed meeting to discuss hiring a new president.
The contract information uncovered by the Muleskinner promptedstate auditor Claire McCaskill to investigate the school. McCaskill’s reportfound “improper compensation and perquisites” in Elliott’s contract.
Ann Pearce, a university spokeswoman, said the school cannot commenton personnel matters.
According to Rynard, Central Missouri State officials contended thatLach-Smith’s contract was not renewed because school administrators decidedto make the newspaper adviser a tenure-track position. Officials did sayLach-Smith was considered for the new tenure-track position but was notone of the four finalists selected.
Rynard said Lach-Smith is suing to get her job back.
“[She wants] reinstatement to her position,” Rynard said. “She likesthe newspaper and likes the students she works with.”
Her students want her back, too. Darrin Sparks, a former reporter forthe Muleskinner who helped to uncover Elliott’s contract, said Lach-Smithwas more than just a journalism teacher to many students at the school.
“She was an adviser, but she was one of those that you don’t only talkabout newspaper business with,” Sparks said. “If something happens at homeyou would talk to her about that too, so she was a friend, she was morethan just an adviser.”