Topeka — A national college media group has censured Kansas State University over the reassignment of the campus newspaper's adviser.
In a letter sent to Kansas State President Jon Wefald, the College Media Advisers' Board of Directors said it had voted to reprimand and condemn the university over its treatment of Ron Johnson.
Effective Monday, Johnson was reassigned from his position as adviser of the Collegian, the student newspaper, to a teaching position. He also was removed from his job as director of student publications.
"We ... encourage university officials to reconsider what CMA views as inappropriate action: the dismissal of an adviser as a result of the college newspaper not covering an event or issue. Such action is equivalent to punishing him for something they did publish. Such actions indicate the adviser, an agent of the state, should be the editor of the paper in control of content and not the students, who hold the First Amendment right to publish what they see fit. This creates a liability situation for your university should the administration advocate such a relationship," CMA president Kathy Lawrence wrote in the letter to Wefald.
Johnson and the Collegian drew criticism after the paper's staff did not cover the Big 12 Conference on Black Student Government, held on campus in February. A group of black students at the school had called for his resignation.
Katie Lane, editor-in-chief of the Collegian at the time of the conference, said the paper made a mistake by not covering the event. She said the paper wrote a story preceding the conference and one after the event. But editors did not realize how many people would attend and mistakenly thought it was an annual conference, she said.
"It was a matter of not understanding how big the event was," said Lane, who apologized at a student forum after the conference. "They thought it was intentional. In no way was it intentional."
In her letter, Lawrence said Johnson was doing his job with his hands-off approach to day-to-day decisions made by student editors.
"CMA members believe that students learn much more when they make the decisions about what is published in their student publications," Lawrence wrote. "The adviser's job is to teach the students how to publish quality publications and then critique those efforts afterwards so students can learn from their mistakes and from what they did well. Moreover, at least at public institutions, the First Amendment requires such a hands-off approach by college officials and employees, including advisers."
As part of the censure, the group said it notified local and national media outlets, the Kansas Board of Regents and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Wefald was not available for comment Friday afternoon.