Kan. college drops adviser who refused demands to censor student paper

KANSAS — A public community college has decided not torenew the contract of a student newspaper adviser because she refused to censorstudent journalists, the adviser said. The Barton County CommunityCollege Board of Trustees on April 20 notified Jennifer Schartz, part-timeprofessor and adviser of the Interrobang, that it would not renew hercontact. The board gave no explanation why. Schartz said she suspectsthat the board made the decision because the Interrobang published aletter to the editor that the administration did not want published. The letter,written by a former basketball player who was cut from the team, criticized theschool’s basketball coach. Before the letter ran, the school’s lawyertold Schartz that the administration expected her not to allow the paper topublish “personal attacks.” Schartz said she declined to censor the letterbecause college student journalists have full First Amendment rights and thatany censorship would be unconstitutional. Schartz said the college isconcerned about its image and that while the college cannot control thecommercial press, the administration assumed it could control the collegepress.Schartz, who has more than 20 years of journalism experience, saidthe Board of Trustees acknowledged that evaluations during her three years ofteaching were good.”I’ve been punished because I didn’t break the lawfor [the college],” Schartz said, adding that she will pursue legal action toget her job back.Before publishing the letter to the editor in the March11 issue, students asked the basketball coach for a response. The coach declinedto comment, which the students noted in the paper.Also before publishingthe letter, editor Zach Becker gave a copy to college President Veldon Law “as acourtesy.” The day before the letter ran, the Board of Trustee’s lawyer, RandallC. Henry, wrote a letter to Schartz instructing her not to allow the letter torun.”Each newspaper has the ability to set its own editorial policy andsince Barton County Community College is ultimately responsible for the contentof this publication, it is the Administration’s position that letters of thistype will not be printed as letters to the editor,” Henry’s letter stated. The”Administration has decided that no letters to the editor will be publishedwhich are by and large personal attacks upon other members of the Barton CountyCommunity College family. You and your student staff persons do not agree withthis position but unfortunately, the ultimate responsibility from a liabilityperspective with regard to this newspaper falls on the greater College communityand that is why this decision has been made,” Henry’s letter concluded.Schartz, who said she did not take the letter seriously at first,forwarded Henry’s letter to Becker and other editors.”[Theadministration doesn’t] want an active paper on our campus that reports realnews,” Becker said.Schartz sent a rebuttal to Law, pointing him to courtrulings that public colleges cannot censor student publications and collegesbear no legal responsibility for what they do publish. “I am beingdirected by the college to violate the law,” her letter stated. Law andHenry did not return requests for comment.