Karen Bosley’s long fight against Ocean County College is finally over.
Ocean County College will pay the reinstated newspaper adviser $90,000and return her to teaching journalism classes to settle a lawsuit she filed when the school took away her classes and refused to renew her contract as adviser in December 2005, Bosley announced in July.
Several student editors and Bosley, who had served as the Viking News adviser for 35 years, expressed concern when the school’s board of trustees voted unanimously in 2005 not to renew her contract as adviser. They said the school’s actions constituted censorship by intimidation.
“The general consensus among the staff is that it is a complete and utter travesty,” said Viking News Editor in Chief Scott Coppola in December 2005. “The college, by removing her, is removing one of the key people in fighting for student rights, and by doing so, it’s an attempt to control the newspaper altogether and to censor us.”
College officials said the censorship accusation was unfounded.
Bosley said she thought she was terminated as the newspaper’s adviser because of a number of stories the paper had run in 2000 criticizing the college president’s $78,000 inauguration and his decision to change the college logo. The conflict came to a head in November 2004, when the Viking News ran an article that published comments from those who criticized President Jon Larson for not surveying students or faculty before changing an activity period time.
Student editors said Larson met with them and threatened to “take action” if the paper did not print a correction to the article. Larson said he had surveyed people before making the scheduling change, according to an editorial Coppola wrote in the paper after the meeting.
Coppola’s editorial also accused Larson of intimidating the staff and threatening student editors’ First Amendment rights by telling them they should “restrain what goes onto the opinion page.”
Faculty in the English department, including Bosley, wrote Larson a letter in light of the editorial, saying, “any attempt to manage the news, or to intimidate students whose views are expressed in the news, violates an essential American liberty.” Larson responded to the faculty’s letter with one of his own, saying, “your letter makes groundless and insulting assertions that condemn and demean my character and devotion to essential American liberties.”
The board then decided not to renew three other professors’ contracts, which some said also was in retaliation for the professors’ support of the student newspaper, according to an article on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Web site.
In May 2006, Coppola and fellow student journalists Alberto Morales and Douglas Rush filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking Bosley’s reinstatement as newspaper adviser. Six weeks later, Bosley filed her own lawsuit that alleged the administrators had violated her First Amendment rights and discriminated against her on the basis of age. The suit sought Bosley’s return to her journalism classes as well as financial compensation.
“I believe the censorship has been largely through intimidation — not by saying ‘Oh, you can’t publish that’ — but through intimidation of the students and retaliation against me because I don’t tell the students they can’t publish it,” Bosley said in 2006.
National media organizations College Media Advisers and the Society of Professional Journalists both issued reports in 2006 calling for Bosley’s reinstatement.
In July 2006, the students were granted a preliminary injunction that temporarily reinstated Bosley to her advising position.
OCC settles both lawsuits
Ocean County College and the three students settled their lawsuit in June. The settlement reinstated Bosley as Viking News adviser and called for the creation of a Student Media Advisory Board, composed of leaders and advisers of campus media organizations, representatives from the student body, faculty, and from the local media.
The board’s only functions, according to a statement, “are to approve budgets, select editors in chief and radio station managers and act as a resource to the student media.” The agreement also states the board will not exercise any editorial or content control over the Viking News or other student media.
The students had other claims in their request for an injunction that were ultimately denied. The students asked the court to bar the administration from changing the newspaper’s computers and eliminating the workshops that Bosley taught.
The students also asked that Director of Student Media Joseph Adelizzi be barred from accessing the Viking News newsroom.
The resolution to Bosley’s lawsuit came in late July, when administrators agreed to pay $90,000 to Bosley while giving back journalism classes she previously had taught. The agreement also calls for Bosley to teach two English classes, rather than the introduction to communications courses she had taught and hoped to gain back through the lawsuit. Bosley will begin teaching journalism classes again in September.
“I am happy to have the travesty in human dealings this case represents finished,” Bosley said in a statement. “I am relieved the lawsuit is over, the three Viking News former editors and I have been vindicated and I have back both the advisership and my journalism classes.”
Bosley supporters expressed satisfaction with the settlement and said it is an important statement about the rights of student journalists and their advisers.
“The settlement and reinstatement of Professor Bosley should provide encouragement to advisers everywhere who work hard to uphold students’ rights to express themselves in their campus newspapers,” said Kathy Lawrence, immediate past president of College Media Advisers and chair of the CMA Adviser Advocacy Committee. “I would hope that the settlement would send a strong message that the First Amendment is alive and well on college campuses and that advisers can rely on a system that supports their mission to teach and support students in the exercise of free expression.”