Kan. university removes adviser after complaints about diversity coverage

KANSAS — RonJohnson, veteran adviser of the Kansas State Collegian, was fired May 10as adviser of the student newspaper and removed from his position as director ofthe corporation that oversees student publications at the university. Johnsonbelieves the Collegian‘s content was a major factor in the decision. Todd Simon, director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism andchairman of the student publications board, announced the decision at a boardmeeting, but gave no explanation for Johnson’s dismissal. Johnson will remain onthe Kansas State University faculty through the 2004-05 schoolyear.Johnson said it appears that Simon acted on his own withoutconsulting the publications board members or student journalists. The regularlyscheduled board meeting did not have a quorum and no vote was taken.Simon did not return requests for comment. He told the Collegianthat he could not comment because it was a personnel matter.StephenWhite, dean of arts and sciences, and Provost James Coffman must sign off onSimon’s decision.Neither would discuss the matter. Studentjournalists, Collegian alumni and advisers across the country pledged tofight the university over what Katie Lane, the newspaper’s editor in chief,called a “huge mistake.”Johnson and the Collegian have beenembroiled in controversy since February, when the newspaper failed to cover theBig 12 Diversity Leadership Conference, a gathering about 1,000 students to thecampus in Manhattan. The Black Student Union, a student group at thepublic university, alleged that the newspaper did not adequately cover minoritystudents’ issues and events. Members of the group led protests against thenewspaper and Johnson, calling for his resignation because they believed he wasnot doing enough to promote diversity coverage by the newspaper.Studentsalso objected to the newspaper’s publication of a headline that they consideredracially insensitive and a comment from the call-in line, a system in whichanonymous readers call in to voice opinions, that they considered racist. Johnson said he has no doubt that the controversy was a factor inSimon’s decision.”Todd Simon, in his recommendation to the dean that Inot be renewed, prepared a content analysis of the newspaper and used that aspart of his justification,” Johnson said. “The clear implication of the timing[of the decision] follows the semester that we’ve had.”Courts haveconsistently ruled that media advisers at public colleges cannot exert anyeditorial control over student publications. Johnson said he is preparedto “do whatever we can to strengthen collegiate journalism at K-State,”including legal action.Johnson said he was frustrated and discouraged atthe news of his dismissal, but he said he was not surprised.”Was itcompletely unexpected? Well no, because we have been in a very intensecontroversy where administrative support for the free student press has beenvirtually nonexistent,” Johnson said.Johnson has been the newspaper’sadviser since 1989. He is a former president of College Media Advisers.Kathy Lawrence, the current president of CMA and director of studentpublications at the University of Texas at Austin, condemned Johnson’sdismissal. She said that in addition to CMA members sending letters ofprotest to the university administration, CMA is organizing a group to go toManhattan May 13 and meet with administrators.”The purpose of oursending someone there is simply to express our feeling that what’s happened atK-State is a real threat to the independence of student media there and anyplace else,” Lawrence said. “All of us who care about college media and studentpress freedom are incredibly embarrassed and ashamed that a university likeKansas State would make a move like this.” Lawrence said Johnson’sdismissal has negative consequences for student journalists. “Thechilling effect that something like this has on students when their adviser isfired over the content of the newspaper is a pretty incredible thing,” Lawrencesaid.The Collegian‘s editor said she was frustrated and angrythat Simon did not consult with student journalists about Johnson’s ability toadvise the newspaper.Lane praised Johnson for “giving us the respect andtrust that we need to make the decisions on our own, and to even make mistakeson our own.”I just don’t understand how people who are above him can’tsee that, can’t see the things that he does for us. They never even bothered toask us.”In February 1998, Johnson was removed as adviser for refusing toexert editorial control over the newspaper. He was reinstated 10 dayslater.Johnson’s last day as adviser and director of student publicationsis May 24.

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