Adviser settles with Ga. university


Fort Valley State adopts new publications policy protecting student paper





GEORGIA — A college newspaper adviser who sued Fort Valley State University for not renewing his contract in 1998 has won what may be the largest settlement of its kind, including $192,000 and the establishment of new publications guidelines at the university.

\n

In March, John Schmitt finalized a settlement wherein the state of Georgia will reimburse $117,000 of his legal fees, and Fort Valley State, where he formerly served as communications adviser, will compensate him with $75,000 and adopt a more flexible publications policy that will protect future advisers.

\n

"I think this kind of an agreement concerning the paper and the adviser may be a landmark kind of arrangement," Schmitt said.

\n

Schmitt and Hollie Manheimer, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented him, crafted the new publications policy to "protect advisers." It includes specific sections on protected speech and adviser job security.

\n

"The adviser is not a censor," according to the new policy. "No teacher who advises The Peachite will be fired, transferred, or removed from the advisership by reason of his or her refusal to exercise editorial control over The Peachite or to otherwise suppress the protected free expression of student journalists."

\n

Schmitt sued the university after his contract was not renewed in 1998, claiming his refusal to act as a censor and racial bias led to his dismissal. Schmitt is white and Fort Valley State is a predominantly black campus near Macon. He served there for one year as an assistant professor of mass communications and adviser to The Peachite.

\n

Although The Peachite published award-winning stories, Schmitt maintained that Fort Valley State administrators had their feathers ruffled and sought to censor the paper.

\n

One story reported that Josephine Davis, university vice president for academic affairs, engaged in questionable financial dealings in a former job at a New York university. Another reported on claims that campus security did not properly treat a student who had an asthma attack and later died.

\n

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

\n

Following Schmitt's dismissal, College Media Advisers censured Fort Valley State for censorship and mistreating an adviser, the first time in its history that the organization took such an action.

\n

Schmitt is now an assistant professor of mass communication at Southwest Texas State University.

\n

In a similar case in 1987, Jerry Thompson won a settlement in which Northern Illinois University paid him $15,000 in legal expenses and reinstated him in his job and as adviser after a two-year court battle.


reports, Spring 2002