Adviser to sue school for refusing to renew contract

Claims that school's action resulted from negative stories in student newspaper

GEORGIA - The former newspaper adviser at Fort Valley State University says he plans to sue the school after his contract was not renewed in the spring of 1998.

John Schmitt, who advised The Peachite at the rural, predominately black campus, 25 miles outside of Macon, says that the investigative pieces his students wrote were not what administrators wanted to read.

One award-winning story alleged that the university vice president for academic affairs engaged in questionable financial dealings at her former university position in New York. Another claimed that campus security may not have properly treated a student's asthma attack. The student later died.

"There is no question that the dismissal was, in part, an attempt to censor the newspaper," Schmitt said.

Hollie Manheimer, a Decatur-based ACLU attorney who is representing Schmitt, said that a lawsuit is in the works, and a 30-page complaint should be written by the end of June.

In addition to the lawsuit, Schmitt has asked several organizations for help, including the American Association of University Professors, the College Media Advisers and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

After an investigation, the College Media Advisers voted to censure Fort Valley State -- only the second time in its history that they have deemed censuring necessary.

"Universities are getting away with murder as far as the First Amendment is concerned," CMA President Mark Witherspoon said.

He added that the CMA's censuring includes publicizing the case by writing letters to publications such as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Editor and Publisher and newspapers in the Fort Valley area.

Schmitt has spent the last year as a visiting assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He also was co-adviser of the university's newspaper. He has been offered a position to study in Bulgaria for the upcoming school year.

"I am seriously considering taking it," he said.

Fort Valley State University, Georgia, news, The Peachite