Students sue administrators alleging censorship; ask for adviser's reinstatement

NEW JERSEY -- Three student journalists filed a lawsuit against Ocean County College and several administrators Wednesday claiming their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the press have been violated.

The complaint, which was filed in federal district court, alleges that administrators' actions involving the student newspaper at the Toms River college amounted to ''censorship by intimidation.''

The lawsuit -- brought by students Alberto Morales, Scott Coppola and Douglas Rush -- seeks to order the college to keep Karen Bosley as adviser to the student newspaper, the Viking News. The college's board of trustees voted unanimously in December 2005 not to renew Bosley's contract as adviser to the paper, a move students at the time said constituted censorship. Bosley has served on the Student Press Law Center's board of directors.

She has told the SPLC she thinks she was terminated as the paper's adviser because of a number of stories the paper has published criticizing the college's president, Jon Larson, and his administration.

Bosley said she has been advised by an attorney not to comment on the lawsuit.

The complaint names as defendants Larson, the board of trustees, Ocean County College and several administrators.

Student journalists have accused administrators of trying to control news content in the student newspaper, a charge college officials have repeatedly denied.

Tara Kelly, a college spokeswoman and one of the administrators listed on the lawsuit, said the college is not at liberty to comment on pending litigation.

A secretary for Angelo Stio III, the attorney representing the students, provided the SPLC with a copy of the complaint. Stio did not immediately return a call seeking comment. But in an article in the Asbury Park Press, a community newspaper, Stio said if a judge grants a preliminary injunction, the status quo would prevail at the Viking News until a further judgment was made. That would mean Bosley, who is supposed to surrender her advisership in June, would at least temporarily retain that position, according to the article.

On Wednesday the Society of Professional Journalists, a national organization that works to improve and protect journalism, issued a 31-page report calling for Bosley's reinstatement. College Media Advisers, another national organization, issued a report in March asking the college to take concrete steps to ensure student press freedom on campus. CMA's report also called for Bosley's reinstatement.

Coppola, one of the student plaintiffs in the lawsuit and the Viking News' editor in chief, did not return a call seeking comment. But in December 2005, Coppola told the SPLC that "student rights to free speech are almost nonexistent here at OCC anymore. The Viking News has been the voice of the students for almost 40 years, and with the removal of Karen Bosley, that voice will be silent."

New Jersey, news, Ocean County College, Viking News

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