Federal court orders Kansas State to temporarily reinstate dismissed adviser

KANSAS — Former Kansas State Collegian adviser Ron Johnson temporarily was reinstated to his position on July 6 after a federal court issued a restraining order that requires university administrators to allow him to resume his position.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson also issued a temporary order that prevents Kansas State University administrators from hiring a new adviser.

Johnson and former Collegian editor in chief Katie Lane filed a lawsuit on July 5 against Todd Simon, director of the university’s journalism school, and Stephen White, dean of arts and sciences at the university, over Johnson’s removal.

In the lawsuit, Johnson offers to resume his position at no cost to Kansas State — an expense that has been covered by Student Publications Inc., the organization that oversees the finances of the newspaper and other student media at the university.

Johnson returned to the Collegian’s newsroom hours after the court order was issued to inform staff members of the news.

“From the very beginning of this, I’ve been so proud of the professionalism of the students at the Collegian,” Johnson said. “That’s why I want this job, they’re great people and deserve help.”

Johnson said he is pleased with the outcome of the lawsuit thus far, and has returned to his duties as newspaper adviser and director of Student Publications.

“I think this is an important preliminary step in asserting the role of the adviser, both ethically and legally,” Johnson said. “If something like this can happen at [Kansas State University], it can happen at so many different places in the country.”

Johnson said there is plenty of work ahead at Kansas State, describing the relationship between the role of the Collegian’s adviser and university administrators as “fractured.”

Lane said a ruling against Simon and White would set a precedent for college student journalists across the country.

“I would like the lawsuit to send a message not only to the administration at Kansas State, but [to] administrators everywhere that this simply isn’t OK,” Lane said. “Students do have First Amendment rights that need to be respected.”

Johnson was removed from his position after battling with university administrators over content appearing in the Collegian. Johnson’s removal came two months after he received a positive evaluation and a recommendation for a pay raise from Simon.

In a letter written to Johnson on May 11, White informed Johnson that as of May 24, he would no longer serve as director of student publications because of a lack of quality of news coverage in the Collegian.

University administrators were to begin screening applicants on July 6 to replace Johnson.

Robinson’s order will remain in effect until July 16. A hearing has been set for July 14 at which time Robinson will determine whether to extend the temporary orders until Johnson and Lane’s lawsuit is heard.

On May 27, university administrators named Linda Puntney, the former assistant director of Student Publications at Kansas State, interim adviser of the Collegian and acting director of student publications.

University officials could not be reached for comment.

View the temporary restraining order in Johnson and Lane v. Simon and White, No. 04-CV-4079 (D. Kan., July 6, 2004).

View the lawsuit filed by Johnson and Lane in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

Download Adobe Acrobat Reader to view documents.

Read previous coverage