On July 14 U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson backed down from a ruling a week earlier in which she had granted Ron Johnson, the recently fired advisor of the Collegian, Kansas State University’s student-run newspaper, temporary reinstatement.
Johnson and former editor-in-chief Katie Lane had filed a July 5 lawsuit against Todd Simon, director of the university’s school of journalism and chair of the board overseeing the Collegian, and Stephen White, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, alleging Johnson’s removal violated the paper’s first amendment rights.
Johnson’s May 10 firing left many students wondering if the pressure for “diversity” had trumped the United States Constitution.
Controversy had surrounded the paper since its failure to cover the university-hosted annual Big 12 Conference on Black Student Government, which left minority students and conference attendees fuming. Over 1,000 students from large public universities like the University of Nebraska and the University of Texas attended the February conference, designed to fall during Black History Month. Complaints of the Collegian’s poor coverage of “diversity” issues and events were nothing new, but this oversight was the last straw for Natalie Rolfe, then president of Kansas State’s Black Student Union.
With Rolfe’s help, two discussion sessions followed, at which administrators, faculty, and student leaders voiced their criticism of the Collegian. The editors apologized for their blunder both at the forums and in the newspaper, but Rolfe wasn’t satisfied. She blamed Johnson, a 15-year constant in a sea of ever-changing editors and staff members, for the paper’s alleged history of neglecting minorities. On April 7, Rolfe and about 50 other students paraded around campus wearing T-shirts bearing the message “W.W.R.G.?”, or “When Will Ron Go?”
In truth, Johnson’s managerial style had been rather laissez-faire. He critiqued each issue after it had already been released, wishing to leave the newspaper’s content in the hands of the students. “As advisor,” he told the Collegian after being sacked, “I critique and consult as asked. I do not read content in advance, and I do not assign stories. I suggest stories and interact with reporters and editors on a daily basis.”
Although Simon issued the recommendation to give Johnson the boot, neither he nor White would comment as to the reason behind the firing, which came only two months after the advisor received a glowing job evaluation. Johnson and members of his staff are confident that it was a direct result of the “diversity” campaigns of the preceding few months.
According to the Student Press Law Center, it is illegal for school officials to “fire an editor or adviser, discipline staff members or take any other action that is motivated by an attempt to control, manipulate or punish past or future content.” Firing Johnson for content (or in this case, lack of content) reasons would therefore seem to be a violation of the paper’s rights to freedom of the press.
Michele Nagar, a rising freshman at the University of Maryland, is an intern at Accuracy in Academia.