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Newspaper Adviserís Removal Prompts SPJ Task Force Investigation


Mac McKerral, SPJ President, (813) 250-9269 or (813) 679-5662 or mmckerral@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists announced Tuesday that it formed a task force to investigate the firing of Ron Johnson, adviser to the Collegian, the student-produced newspaper at Kansas State University.

Johnson was fired despite five of his most recent job evaluations rating him as ďexcellentĒ and another stating that he ďexceeds expectations,Ē stated a report by The Associated Press.

The AP reported May 18 that Stephen White, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, upheld the recommendation of journalism school director Todd Simon that Johnson be removed as adviser to the student newspaper and as director of student publications at Kansas State University.

White overruled Simonís recommendation that the college not renew Johnsonís faculty teaching contract. Johnson will remain on the faculty through the 2005-2006 school year, the AP report stated.

ďThis is another example of the increasing pressure put upon college media advisers in an era where college administrators believe they know more about the right way to manage newspapers than journalists do,Ē said Mac McKerral, president of SPJ. McKerral previously served as SPJís Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs for five years and adviser to the student newspaper and yearbook at Troy State University in Troy, Ala., for 10 years.

ďAs always, an SPJ task force first and foremost seeks the truth, so fact-finding remains at the forefront of the task force charge. But I would be very surprised to find that this is not a back-door effort to manage the paperís content. If thatís true, itís wrong and itís illegal.Ē

The Collegian reported in its May 20 online edition that members of the Board of Student Publications Inc. voted unanimously to keep Johnson in the role of Collegian adviser and director of Student Publications Inc.

The decision to go forward with Johnsonís termination or re-instate him still lies with White and Provost James R. Coffman, the Collegian online reported.

Board member Zac Cook told the Collegian that the vote was more of a statement made by the board in response to what they believe is chairman Todd Simonís handling of the situation.

McKerral said SPJ task force work also involves:
-- Collaborative, not confrontational, meetings with the university administration.
-- Emphasis on the necessary and court-protected independence of the student media.
-- Emphasis on ensuring that the rights of student editors and/or student media advisers are not abridged.
-- Use of the SPJ Code of Ethics as the standard for analyzing all issues.

Task force members are:
-- James L. Highland, Task Force Chairman, Western Kentucky University, SPJ Vice President for Campus Chapter Affairs
-- Ron Sylvester, Task Force Co-chairman, crime-courts reporter, The Wichita Eagle
-- Professor Charles Davis, University of Missouri Freedom of Information Center, SPJ National Freedom of Information Committee Co-chair, University of Missouri
-- Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, SPJ Region 7 Director, freelance writer/adjunct professor, Kansas City Star
Johnson County Community College
-- Professor Neil Ralston, SPJ Campus Adviser At Large, Northwestern State University
-- Professor Mead Loop, SPJ Campus Adviser At Large, Ithaca College
-- Tasha N. Braggs, SPJ Student Board Representative, Northwestern State University
-- Amanda Lutz, SPJ Student Board Representative, University of St. Thomas

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


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