Community College newspaper has its final issue reinstated, earns letter of support

KANSAS—A community college in Kansas has walked back, in part, actions taken to restrict its own student newspaper.

KWCH in Wichita reported Monday that Hutchinson Community College had shut down the campus newspaper for the remainder of the semester, canceling its final issue and confiscating the latest print run. The newspaper class was discontinued and its teacher, Alan Montgomery, suspended.

Wednesday, the Hutchinson News reported the final issue of the newspaper has been reinstated.

Montgomery says these actions came after a month of tension between The Hutchinson Collegian and the administration over articles critical of the school. Student reporter Jeff Leddy told KWCH he went to the paper’s offices Monday to find the doors locked, and he asked to be let in to claim some personal items.

“Grabbed my clip book and novel and then I just grabbed all the newspapers so I could distribute them,” Leddy said.

Soon, campus security caught up with him and requested he hand over the undistributed papers. Later, the papers were given to members of the Student Government Association to hand out.

Montgomery says the trouble started in December when the paper ran a story about conflict between the college and a veteran professor. Since then, they’ve reported on alleged restrictions on student and faculty access to campus workstations.

A photo posted by WHCD also shows a story in the April 28 edition about mold in a dorm requiring repairs. It wouldn’t be the first time such a story caused an adviser to be removed.

In the Hutchinson News, the college’s president, Carter File, said the students would be graded on work completed and that the discontinuation shouldn’t affect them adversely. He wouldn’t comment on Montgomery’s suspension, saying it was a personnel matter.

Montgomery, the News notes, has been quoted in some Collegian articles throughout the year, in articles he helped write and edit. He has also helped organize campus protests.

After a spate of adverse publicity following the initial coverage Monday, the college rescinded its directive against publishing the final issue, and File told KSN it was a misunderstanding.

“It is their paper, it’s for the students, and it’s their voice. And the only reason it wasn’t published on Friday is because we didn’t think it would be possible to publish it,” said File.

The classes remain cancelled, however, and Montgomery’s faculty status remains up in the air.

Late Wednesday, members of Kansas Collegiate Media released a statement, addressed to HCC President Carter File, in support of the Collegian. In the letter, KCM President Stacy Sparks and her fellow members wrote:

“Seizure of newspapers is an obvious violation of the First Amendment as is cancelling the final issue of the Collegian. We support due process for the fair review of facts before coming to a determination regarding the suspension of Alan Montgomery.”

You can view the letter in its entirety, here.

SPLC Publications Fellow Roxann Elliott can be reached by email or (202) 833-4614.

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