Students sue administrators alleging censorship; ask for adviser's reinstatement

NEW JERSEY –Three student journalists filed a lawsuit against Ocean County College andseveral administrators Wednesday claiming their First Amendment rights tofreedom of speech and the press have been violated.

Thecomplaint, which was filedin federal district court, alleges that administrators’ actionsinvolving the student newspaper at the Toms River college amounted to ”censorship by intimidation.”

The lawsuit — broughtby students Alberto Morales, Scott Coppola and Douglas Rush — seeksto order the college to keep Karen Bosley as adviser to the student newspaper,the Viking News. The college’sboard of trustees voted unanimously in December 2005 not to renew Bosley’scontract as adviser to the paper, a move students at the time said constitutedcensorship. Bosley has served on the Student Press Law Center’s board ofdirectors.

She has told the SPLC she thinks she was terminated as thepaper’s adviser because of a number of stories the paper has publishedcriticizing the college’s president, Jon Larson, and hisadministration.

Bosley said she has been advised by an attorney notto comment on the lawsuit.

The complaint names as defendants Larson,the board of trustees, Ocean County College and severaladministrators.

Student journalists have accused administrators oftrying to control news content in the student newspaper, a charge collegeofficials have repeatedly denied.

Tara Kelly, a college spokeswomanand one of the administrators listed on the lawsuit, said the college is not atliberty to comment on pending litigation.

A secretary for Angelo StioIII, the attorney representing the students, provided the SPLC with a copy ofthe complaint. Stio did not immediately return a call seeking comment. But in anarticlein the Asbury Park Press, a communitynewspaper, Stio said if a judge grants a preliminary injunction, the status quowould prevail at the Viking News untila further judgment was made. That would mean Bosley, who is supposed to surrenderher advisership in June, would at least temporarily retain that position, accordingto the article.

On Wednesday the Society of Professional Journalists,a national organization that works to improve and protect journalism, issued a31-page report calling for Bosley’sreinstatement. College Media Advisers, another national organization, issued areport in March asking the college to take concrete steps to ensure studentpress freedom on campus. CMA’s report also called for Bosley’sreinstatement.

Coppola, one of the student plaintiffs in the lawsuitand the Viking News’ editor inchief, did not return a call seeking comment. But in December 2005, Coppola toldthe SPLC that “student rights to free speech are almost nonexistent here at OCCanymore. The Viking News has been thevoice of the students for almost 40 years, and with the removal of Karen Bosley,that voice will besilent.”