The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest organization of working journalists, condemned the firing of Kansas State University student newspaper adviser Ron Johnson, calling the school’s action “troubling” and “offensive to the very notion of what the First Amendment was intended to protect.”
In a letter released July 30, SPJ called on KSU President Jon Wefald to restore Johnson to his position as director of Student Publications Inc., which oversees the Collegian, KSU’s student newspaper. Johnson was removed from his post in May following controversy over the newspaper’s coverage of minorities on campus. A similar resolution was approved by delegates to the SPJ national convention in New York City on Sept. 12. However, an SPJ task force sent to investigate the situation at Kansas State issued a divided report this month on the incident. Two members of the of the five person task force said that Johnson’s removal was not a First Amendment issue, two said it was and one abstained.
Johnson and former Collegian Editor in Chief Katie Lane filed suit against two KSU administrators in July, claiming Johnson’s dismissal was based on the newspaper’s controversial content and therefore a violation of the First Amendment.
In their response to the lawsuit, Todd Simon, dean of KSU’s School of Journalism, and Stephen White, dean of the College of Arts, denied that Johnson’s dismissal was related to any “substantive expressions” in the paper’s content. Instead, they argued, Johnson was removed due to “general quality of the newspaper.”
On September 3, lawyers for Simon and White requested that the lawsuit be dismissed, claiming that the plaintiffs had failed to support their claim that Johnson’s firing violated his First Amendment rights. Johnson said attorneys for the plaintiffs are reviewing that proposal.
SPLC View: The SPLC has also publicly condemned the dangerous legal position taken by KSU administrators, which is unprecedented, bizarre and offensive to the First Amendment. \nRead our full statement and watch the SPLC Web site for more details about this ongoing controversy.