Interim adviser named for Kan. student paper; groups censure university

KANSAS — Although her main goal is to keep studentpublications moving forward at Kansas State University, Linda Puntney isconcerned there are not enough safeguards in place to guarantee the FirstAmendment rights of students and advisers at the public university.The14-year veteran of the university community has been named interim adviser ofthe Kansas State Collegian, a student newspaper at the university, andacting director of Student Publications Inc., the organization that oversees thefinances of the newspaper and other student media.Her promotion is aresult of the removal of former adviser Ron Johnson, who believes schooladministrators fired him because of content that appeared in the newspaper.After receiving about 10 applications for the position, the school decided tocall off its search for a new adviser after the publication’s board of directorssaid they would not support Johnson’s replacement. Puntney, who hadserved as the assistant director of Student Publications, adviser of theRoyal Purple yearbook and a professor in the university’s school ofjournalism, was named to the position on May 27. On the same day, theCollege Media Advisers’ Board of Directors voted to censure the university,condemning Johnson’s removal and discouraging its members from applying for theKansas State vacancy. An investigation by a CMA task force found thatJohnson was removed from his position — despite high performanceevaluations — because of officials’ complaints about the newspaper’scontent. He was removed on May 11 after pressure from a group of minoritystudents on campus. In a letter sent to Kansas State UniversityPresident Jon Wefald on May 27, the Western Association of UniversityPublications Managers, a group of 29 student-publications directors from acrossthe country, also expressed concern over Johnson’s removal. The group said theremoval compromises the principle of editorial independence at public collegesand universities, and ignores the clear mandate of the FirstAmendment.”My ultimate goal is to create a situation where advisers,students and the First Amendment will be safe at Kansas State University,”Puntney said. “My interpretation of the situation now is that there is aperception that it is not safe there — the administration says it’s not acontent issue, but there is a lot of us who question it.”Puntney wouldlike to rewrite the bylaws of the organization to make sure rights are clearlyoutlined for students and their advisers.”The situation that has seemedto work well for about 50 years, right now, doesn’t seem to be working,” shesaid. “Both the director and the assistant director share a split contract[serving as advisers for Student Publications and as professors in thejournalism department]. Although Student Publications is an independent agency,[the situation] always worked, apparently nicely, untilrecently.”Puntney said she supports Johnson and hopes the school willreinstate him.”If in fact this reassignment was a content issue, that isa concern to me,” she said. “If this comes down to it is, in fact, acontent-related issue, we are in deep trouble at Kansas State University. If itis not a content issue, I’d like to know more about what it is.”

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