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Armstrong Atlantic, Inkwell settle lawsuit over funding cut

November 20, 2008

GEORGIA-- The Inkwell, the student newspaper at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., will not have to operate on a budget abridged by the Student Government Association after its lawsuit alleging First Amendment retaliation was settled out of court.

After all parties signed off on an agreement resolving all claims, the Savannah division of the United States District Court dismissed the lawsuit of Mensing v. Armstrong Atlantic State University Nov. 11.

Gerald Weber, lead counsel for the Inkwell editors, said that the case took steps toward advancing and securing journalism at AASU.

"We hope this result will embolden the budding journalists at Armstrong State and preserve their independent voice," said Weber, who accepted the case as part of the Student Press Law Center volunteer attorney network.

Angela Mensing, former editor in chief of the Inkwell, said the newspaper got exactly what it wanted from the settlement. The lawsuit was filed in July.

"We wanted to settle with the school before it reached litigation level," she said. "I am very happy. We just filed in July and here it is; we are already settled and it has been dismissed."

Mensing, along with fellow editors at the newspaper, filed the lawsuit after the SGA cut the Inkwell's budget by $14,760. The Inkwell alleged that the SGA decided to cut the newspaper's budget because of articles critical of the university and because SGA officials felt their activities received insufficient publicity. In the settlement, Inkwell's budget was restored with an extra $240, totaling $15,000. AASU also paid nominal damages and legal fees of $7,500.

"In our budget hearing with the Student Government Association they specifically asked content-related questions," said Mensing. "It's not censorship in the sense that they are saying 'print this,' 'write this' or 'you can't do this' directly, but it's definitely an indirect form of censorship."

The Inkwell staff members contacted the Student Press Law Center out of concern that their First Amendment rights were being violated. Frank LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC, said that censorship in any form is wrong.

"Colleges and schools need to recognize that, if they use a publication's budget to punish editorial decisions they disagree with, they are violating the law and they will be held accountable," he said. "It's unfortunate that it took filing a lawsuit and expending valuable public funds to deliver this message at Armstrong Atlantic, but we are very pleased with the ultimate result and we look forward to an improved working climate for AASU's student journalists in the future."

Even thought Mensing graduated in May, she decided to pursue the lawsuit and encourages others to know and speak out about their First Amendment rights.

"I was not going to let the next newspaper staff deal with this; I couldn't let it go. If you feel like you're being censored, then stand up for what's right," she said. "It can be hectic, but at the same time rewarding."

The university did not return phone calls for this story. In earlier stories by the SPLC, the university had no comment.

By Erica Walters, SPLC staff writer

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For More Information:
  • Editors sue Ga. college over cuts to student paper's budget News Flash, 7/1/2008
  • Editor in Georgia plans lawsuit over cuts to student paper's budget News Flash, 3/24/2008

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