KANSAS– What started with an anonymous news tip has resulted intwo Johnson County Community College students creating their own independentnewspaper.
In March 2005, when he was working as editor in chief of The Campus Ledger, JCCC’s studentnewspaper, Miguel Morales received an e-mail telling him to look into theschool’s sexual harassment policy. After some investigating, he uncovereda sexual harassment allegation made by a JCCC female employee in 2003 againstthen President Charles Carlsen, Morales said.
In April, the paper rana story about the allegation, which Carlsen denied. The paper also ran a storyabout another alleged report of sexual harassment against Carlsen as well as aneditorial calling for board of trustees President Elaine Perilla to resign,alleging that Perilla knew about the allegations made against Carlsen, Moralessaid.
The Kansas City Starreported thatshortly after the article was published, Carlsen took a leave of absence so aninvestigation could be conducted, but a week later, he announced hisretirement.
In June Morales and fellowCampus Ledger staffer Kevin Mimmsapproached the board of trustees in hopes of obtaining funding so they couldcontinue to follow up on the story, publishing two issues of the paper over thesummer — something the paper had not previously done.
Mimmssaid the paper did not use all the funding it was allocated in the beginning ofthe year, but the newspaper’s contracts for the spring had expired. Thestudents needed either extensions or new contracts to continue publishing, whichrequired board approval.
Perilla could not be reached for comment,but The Johnson County Sun reportedthat the trustees voted on June 15 to disallow publication ofThe CampusLedger, with Perilla saying that thestudents could print their own paper.
Mimms said the trustees hadincorrect information on how much it was going to cost to operate the studentnewspaper during the summer, which he suspects influenced their decision.
”We were just about to say, ‘we’ll just wait untilthe fall [to publish].’ But then we started getting telephone calls,e-mails, letters and people volunteering to give us money,” Mimms said.
”We’ve gotten donations from people who wish to remain anonymous andthen what I’ve thrown in and what Miguel has thrown in, we’vemanaged to get TheLexicon put together and publish anewspaper anyway.”
TheLexicon, the independent newspaper Mimms and Morales created, was firstpublished on July 20.
At first the college would not let the studentsdistribute The Lexicon on campus, adecision that Interim President Larry Tyree reversed.
”Idecided to allow The Lexicon to be distributed on campus forthree reasons — it made common sense, the students making the requestwrote a persuasive letter giving good reasons for its distribution and severalother publications are already being distributed on campus,” Tyree said inan email. ”I thought it would be a good gesture to indicate a new climateof greater openness here.”
Morales said the current situationhas changed what his goals are for the paper.
”My thoughthasn’t been that I wanted to sue the college, it was to protect thestudent newspaper,” he said. ”I want to be able to put things inplace that will protect the newspaper from now on.”
Mimms saidthat although The Lexicon isindependent from the college, he still anticipates there will be some hurdles toovercome.
”I’m hoping we will run into less problems withthe First Amendment challenges at TheLexicon, but I doubt that will happen,” Mimms said. ”Thethings we’re talking about at the college are things people don’twant us talkingabout.”