Armstrong Atlantic, <i>Inkwell</i> settle lawsuit over funding cut

GEORGIA– The Inkwell, the student newspaper atArmstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., will not have to operateon a budget abridged by the Student Government Association after its lawsuitalleging First Amendment retaliation was settled out of court.

After all parties signed off on an agreement resolving all claims, theSavannah division of the United States District Court dismissed the lawsuit ofMensing v. Armstrong Atlantic State University Nov. 11.

Gerald Weber, lead counsel for the Inkwell editors, said that thecase took steps toward advancing and securing journalism at AASU.

“We hope this result will embolden the budding journalists at ArmstrongState and preserve their independent voice,” said Weber, who accepted thecase as part of the Student Press Law Center volunteer attorney network.

Angela Mensing, former editor in chief of the Inkwell, said thenewspaper got exactly what it wanted from the settlement. The lawsuit was filedin July.

“We wanted to settle with the school before it reached litigationlevel,” she said. “I am very happy. We just filed in July and hereit is; we are already settled and it has been dismissed.”

Mensing, along with fellow editors at the newspaper, filed the lawsuitafter the SGA cut the Inkwell’s budget by $14,760. TheInkwell alleged that the SGA decided to cut the newspaper’s budgetbecause of articles critical of the university and because SGA officials felttheir activities received insufficient publicity. In the settlement,

Inkwell’s budget was restored with an extra $240, totaling $15,000.AASU also paid nominal damages and legal fees of $7,500.

“In our budget hearing with the Student Government Association theyspecifically asked content-related questions,” said Mensing.”It’s not censorship in the sense that they are saying ‘print this,”write this’ or ‘you can’t do this’ directly, but it’s definitely anindirect form of censorship.”

The Inkwell staff members contacted the Student Press Law Center outof concern that their First Amendment rights were being violated. Frank LoMonte,executive director of the SPLC, said that censorship in any form is wrong.

“Colleges and schools need to recognize that, if they use apublication’s budget to punish editorial decisions they disagree with,they are violating the law and they will be held accountable,” he said.”It’s unfortunate that it took filing a lawsuit and expendingvaluable public funds to deliver this message at Armstrong Atlantic, but we arevery pleased with the ultimate result and we look forward to an improved workingclimate for AASU’s student journalists in the future.”

Even thought Mensing graduated in May, she decided to pursue the lawsuitand encourages others to know and speak out about their First Amendmentrights.

“I was not going to let the next newspaper staff deal with this; Icouldn’t let it go. If you feel like you’re being censored, thenstand up for what’s right,” she said. “It can be hectic, butat the same time rewarding.”

The university did not return phone calls for this story. In earlierstories by the SPLC, the university had no comment.