Kan. college president denies involvement in student newspaper adviser’s dismissal

KANSAS — The president of Barton County Community College did not recommend the firing of newspaper adviser Jennifer Schartz, he claims in an affidavit filed in Schartz’s lawsuit against the college.

College President Veldon Law said in the affidavit, filed May 25 in federal district court, that he recommended Schartz’s contract be renewed, but the Barton County Community College Board of Trustees voted not to renew it. Law declined to answer questions for this story.

Schartz was notified on April 20, 2004, that her contract was not being renewed, but says she was never told why. According to Kansas law, untenured instructors do not have to be told why they are being dismissed.

But Schartz claims in her lawsuit, filed April 1, 2005, in U.S. district court, that Law was involved in the decision to not renew her contract.

The college’s lawyer, Alan Glendenning, asked for Law to be removed as a defendant in the lawsuit, and in a separate motion asked to have the lawsuit dismissed.

“He is not a proper defendant, because under Kansas law these type of decisions are made by the board of trustees,” Glendenning said.

Schartz said her difficulties with the administration began in March 2004, when The Interrobang student newspaper published a letter to the editor criticizing the school’s former basketball coach. Schartz said she later received a letter from the college’s lawyer, Randall Henry, telling her that “the administration has decided that no letters to the editor will be published which are by and large personal attacks upon other members of the Barton County Community College Family.”

Schartz responded with another letter, telling Henry that she could not legally censor the students, as it would violate their First Amendment rights.

Henry did not return calls for comment.

Schartz said she believes her contract was not renewed because she allowed the students to print the letter. Schartz is claiming a violation of her First and 14th Amendment rights, and asking to be reinstated as well as for compensation of lost wages.

“She wasn’t renewed as a teacher because she would not direct her students to cease publishing things critical of the college,” Gene Anderson, Schartz’s lawyer, said.

Glendenning, however, said Schartz’s “non-renewal had nothing to do with her First Amendment rights.” He declined to comment further.

Schartz said the lawsuit is moving slowly, because three new Barton County Community College Board of Trustee members will soon begin their terms, and she wants to see how receptive they are to hiring her back as the adviser.

–By Rebecca McNulty

Read previous coverage