Neb. college fires second newspaper adviser in five years

NEBRASKA — For the second time in five years, the student newspaper adviser at Peru State College has been removed from the position, with accusations circling that an administrator has been trying to censor the paper.

Druann Durbin, who was an assistant professor of English and adviser to the Peru State Times for four years, was informed in a letter signed by the college’s president, Ben Johnson, in April 2005 that her contract was being terminated. Nebraska law requires terminated employees to be given a year’s notice of their termination; she will leave the school in May 2006. Durbin said she was initially told she could advise the newspaper in her last year, but was informed July 15 that she will not be allowed to.

Durbin said she was told she was being fired because she “wasn’t a team player,” didn’t “support the policies of the college” and that her “professional development was weak.”

Durbin, however, claims she was fired because the Peru State Times printed stories that were critical of the college’s administration, including stories on budget cuts at the college and how money was being spent on campus renovations. Durbin claims that Peru State College President Ben Johnson disliked these stories and did not want the paper to print negative stories about the college.

“Johnson basically does not like professors who speak out or challenge his ideas or criticize the college in any way,” Durbin said. “I allowed the students to cover what was going on campus, and he simply wanted to terminate me before I got tenure.”

Under the college’s policies, Durbin could have applied for tenure this year.

Upset that their adviser was being removed from the position, several of the newspaper’s staff organized a protest on campus, staff member and sophomore Pamela Bouterse said.

Durbin also said that during her time as the paper’s adviser, she has seen members of the paper’s staff be verbally reprimanded by Johnson over stories they wrote.

Bouterse said although Johnson never reprimanded her, she knows other students who have been.

Alex Greenwood, spokesman for Peru State College, said he could not discus Durbin’s case because of personnel issues.

“We just want to refute the allegations that she has made about this issue,” Greenwood said. “We do not agree with her statements.”

Greenwood also said he did not know of a time when a member of the newspaper staff was ever verbally reprimanded by Johnson.

“Our president has been very supportive of our student newspaper program,” Greenwood said.

Scott Norby, Durbin’s attorney, said Durbin was terminated because she would not prevent the paper from running stories about the administration.

“Our perception here is that that the administration was upset that she didn’t exercise editorial control over the content of the newspaper and that articles critical of the administration were published,” Norby said.

Norby said no decisions have been made on whether Durbin will file a lawsuit against the college.

Durbin is not the first Peru State Times adviser to be fired during Johnson’s tenure. Former adviser Matt Mauch was notified of his termination in April 2000 after he battled the administration over a story about sexual assault on campus.

Durbin said she was informed of the Mauch case by members of the English department, but did not worry about the precedent that had been set at the college.

“My assumption was that Johnson wouldn’t fire two journalism advisers in a row,” Durbin said.

–Rebecca McNulty