Two Kansas college students start independent newspaper after board refuses funding

KANSAS -- What started with an anonymous news tip has resulted in two Johnson County Community College students creating their own independent newspaper. 

In March 2005, when he was working as editor in chief of The Campus Ledger, JCCC's student newspaper, Miguel Morales received an e-mail telling him to look into the school's sexual harassment policy. After some investigating, he uncovered a sexual harassment allegation made by a JCCC female employee in 2003 against then President Charles Carlsen, Morales said.

In April, the paper ran a story about the allegation, which Carlsen denied. The paper also ran a story about another alleged report of sexual harassment against Carlsen as well as an editorial calling for board of trustees President Elaine Perilla to resign, alleging that Perilla knew about the allegations made against Carlsen, Morales said.

The Kansas City Star reported that shortly after the article was published, Carlsen took a leave of absence so an investigation could be conducted, but a week later, he announced his retirement.

In June Morales and fellow Campus Ledger staffer Kevin Mimms approached the board of trustees in hopes of obtaining funding so they could continue to follow up on the story, publishing two issues of the paper over the summer -- something the paper had not previously done.

Mimms said the paper did not use all the funding it was allocated in the beginning of the year, but the newspaper's contracts for the spring had expired. The students needed either extensions or new contracts to continue publishing, which required board approval.

Perilla could not be reached for comment, but The Johnson County Sun reported that the trustees voted on June 15 to disallow publication of The Campus Ledger, with Perilla saying that the students could print their own paper.

Mimms said the trustees had incorrect information on how much it was going to cost to operate the student newspaper during the summer, which he suspects influenced their decision.

''We were just about to say, 'we'll just wait until the fall [to publish].' But then we started getting telephone calls, e-mails, letters and people volunteering to give us money,'' Mimms said.

''We've gotten donations from people who wish to remain anonymous and then what I've thrown in and what Miguel has thrown in, we've managed to get The Lexicon put together and publish a newspaper anyway.''

The Lexicon, the independent newspaper Mimms and Morales created, was first published on July 20.

At first the college would not let the students distribute The Lexicon on campus, a decision that Interim President Larry Tyree reversed.

''I decided to allow The Lexicon to be distributed on campus for three reasons -- it made common sense, the students making the request wrote a persuasive letter giving good reasons for its distribution and several other publications are already being distributed on campus,'' Tyree said in an email. ''I thought it would be a good gesture to indicate a new climate of greater openness here.''

Morales said the current situation has changed what his goals are for the paper.

''My thought hasn't been that I wanted to sue the college, it was to protect the student newspaper,'' he said. ''I want to be able to put things in place that will protect the newspaper from now on.''

Mimms said that although The Lexicon is independent from the college, he still anticipates there will be some hurdles to overcome.

''I'm hoping we will run into less problems with the First Amendment challenges at The Lexicon, but I doubt that will happen,'' Mimms said. ''The things we're talking about at the college are things people don't want us talking about.''

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