KANSAS — Minority students at Kansas State Universityare calling for the resignation of long-time student newspaper adviser RonJohnson, a man that they say has not done enough to promote coverage ofdiversity by the student-run paper.Johnson says he will not resign. He said the situation began inFebruary when editors of the Kansas State Collegian did not send areporter to cover the Big 12 Diversity Leadership Conference, an event that drewabout 1,000 students to the Manhattan campus. In addition, the newspaperpublished what some considered a racially insensitive headline and a commentfrom the call-in line, an anonymous system in which readers call in to voiceopinions, that was considered racist.In an April 10 article in TheKansas City Star, Natalie Rolfe, president of the university’s BlackStudent Union, said the paper’s lack of diversity coverage has been anrecurring problem. She faulted Johnson with not doing enough to promote thepaper’s diversity coverage.“We’re asking that the adviser bethe adviser,” Rolfe told The Kansas City Star. “We wantpermanent policies, permanent training” for the newspaperstaff.Johnson said that on April 7 about 40 students from minoritygroups protested him on campus. “They wore T-shirts and put posters oncampus with the initials WWRG, meaning When Will Ron Go?” Johnson said.School administrators are listening to students’ complaints buthave not said what action, if any, they will take.Johnson said he is notworried about losing his job, but “when you have administrators andstudents advocating your dismissal, then of course you’reconcerned.”Johnson, who is a former president of College MediaAdvisers, has advised the Collegian for 15 years.Newspaper staffmembers and alumni are speaking out in support of Johnson.Johnson saidhe spoke with the newspaper staff about the incidents after the fact. He saidthey apologized to the campus community “over and overagain.”“They’re very sorry that they missed [theconference], and they apologized profusely and repeatedly,” Johnson said.“But that was not enough for this particular group.”Membersof the newspaper staff held meetings and discussions with multiculturalorganizations on campus.“We tried to explain why it could havehappened and how we could fix it,” said Katie Lane, editor in chief of thenewspaper. “We listened to concerns and talked about it in our newsroomand how we could address the problems that we thought werehappening.”She said during one of the discussions an administrator“advocated [an adviser] being in the newsroom at night.”Lanesaid that while Pat Bosco, dean of student life, never went so far as to proposehaving an adviser look over content prior to publication or restrain it in anyway, Lane does not believe Johnson should be in the newsroom at night whenstudent journalists are producing the daily newspaper.“We are runcompletely by students,” Lane said. “If we have a question about astory …we know we can go to our adviser and ask for advice, but to havesomeone in there at night would completely change the environment of how thepaper works.”Johnson said he does not believe it would benefit thepaper to be there at night.“I’m already a presence in thenewsroom as an adviser,” Johnson said. “I do a great deal ofcritiquing, I’m very visible. But in terms of sitting in the newsroom atnight reviewing copy, absolutely not, I will not do that.”Sincethe incident, Lane has worked to change some policies on how the newspapercovers events. She said the newspaper has appointed a diversity reporter tocheck in with the multicultural groups and ensure coverage of majorevents.“I think there’s a great deal of pressure on thenewspaper staff to cover the literally hundreds of events that we have here atK-State,” Johnson said. “It’s no different than what any othernewspaper faces.”Johnson said this is not the first battlehe’s had with the school over the newspaper.“[In February 1998], I wasfired for 10 days over this type of debate,” Johnson said. He said theBoard of Student Publications cited a contract dispute as the reason for histermination. Johnson said he believes the dispute was over control of thenewspaper.He was reinstated after an overwhelming response from thecommunity and various journalism associations.
Read previous coverage
- Kansas State Univ. publication board reinstates newspaper adviser News Flash, 2/19/1998