College newspaper adviser sues administrators over loss of position

NEW JERSEY — Six weeks after three students filed a lawsuit against administrators at Ocean County College for attempting to censor the student newspaper, their adviser has filed a similar lawsuit against the school for removing her from her position at the paper, which she has held for the past 35 years.

Karen Bosley, the longtime adviser of the Viking News at Ocean County College in Toms River, N.J., filed the lawsuit June 19 in federal district court. The lawsuit came after the college removed her as adviser of the newspaper and barred her from teaching journalism classes. Filed against President Jon Larson and several other upper-level college administrators at OCC, the lawsuit alleges that the administrators violated her First Amendment rights and discriminated against her on the basis of her age. Bosley’s lawsuit follows a related one filed against administrators in May by threeViking News student editors.

Bosley, whose job as adviser officially ends today, said she thinks she was removed from her position because the newspaper published several stories critical of the Larson administration. Among other things, the newspaper in 2000 criticized Larson’s presidential inauguration gala, which cost the school $78,000, and his hiring of a consultant to change a school logo. More recently, a newspaper story and editorial also criticized Larson’s decision to change a school “activity time” as inconvenient for students and alleged that the change was made with little input from them.

“I believe the censorship has been largely through intimidation – not by saying ‘Oh you can’t publish that’ – but through intimidation of the students and retaliation against me because I don’t tell the students they can’t publish it,” said Bosley, who is a former member of the Student Press Law Center board of directors.

Bosley said the only reasons that administrators gave her for not renewing her contract were that the newspaper contained too many editing mistakes and that she had requested Macintosh computers for the paper.

Tara Kelly, a college spokeswoman and one of the defendants in the case, is on vacation until July 5 and could not be reached for comment, according to her assistant. The assistant said no one else at the college could comment on the case, and she declined to provide the SPLC with the name of the college’s lawyer.

However, Kelly told the SPLC in December, shortly after the college’s board of trustees voted to remove Bosley, that the college’s actions were not motivated by the newspaper’s coverage of the administration.

"We encourage free press. The actions have no retaliatory motivation," Kelly has said. "We would never make an employment decision based on a student action.... We hope with a new adviser [student editors] will continue to shine their flashlight on the administration."

Jan Kirsten, director of college relations, also referred the SPLC to Kelly and declined to provide the name of the college’s lawyer.

“The college does think that it will prevail, but that’s really all I can say,” Kirsten said, declining further comment on the case.

Bosley said that in addition to removing her as adviser to the Viking News, the college also reassigned her from teaching journalism classes to teaching English.

“The reassignment I think is twofold,” Bosley said. “One, to try to indicate to the public that I’m not competent to be adviser and teach journalism, and second to make me feel unhappy so I’ll quit.”

Angelo Stio, the lawyer for the students who filed a lawsuit against OCC, said a hearing for their motion for a temporary restraining order is scheduled for July 17.

New Jersey, news, Ocean County College, Viking News