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College president denies seeking journalism instructor's ouster

By The Associated Press

GREAT BEND, Kan. — The president of Barton County Community College said in a court affidavit that he did not seek the dismissal of the college’s journalism instructor, whose termination has led to a lawsuit and an investigation by a national journalism group.

Scool President Veldon Law said he recommended last year that the college’s governing board renew Jennifer Schartz’s contract, according to a sworn affidavit filed My 23 in U.S. District Court.

Instead, the college’s six-member Board of Trustees decided not to renew Schartz’s contract, effectively firing her. Schartz had taught part-time at the school for three years and was up for tenure when dismissed.

Law’s statement was included in a filing by Great Bend attorney Alan Glendenning, the college’s lawyer in the case, who is asking that Law be removed as a defendant.

In separate filings, Glendenning also has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. If the case proceeds, he wants the court to hold the trial in U.S. District Court in Wichita. When Schartz filed her lawsuit on April 1, her attorneys asked that the trial take place in Kansas City, Kan.

In her lawsuit, Schartz alleges that Law, the board of trustees, and the college’s regular attorney, Randy Henry, all were involved in her dismissal.

She contends her dismissal was in retaliation for the content she allowed her students to publish in the campus newspaper, The Interrobang, including stories about an internal investigation into academic misconduct involving coaches and athletes.

Schartz said the dismissal violated her and her students’ constitutional rights to free expression. She is seeking reinstatement with full seniority and tenure, and actual and punitive damages.

College officials have said they do not need to explain why Schartz was dismissed because she was not a tenured employee. And they contend that Kansas law makes them and the college immune from the damages Schartz is seeking.

In the court filings, college officials acknowledge that Schartz “demonstrated a commitment to student learning, professional development and the mission of BCCC” while employed at the college.

But they deny her claims that she “transformed” the school’s journalism program into a “strong and respected” one.

They also deny her claims that college officials, including former men’s basketball head coach Dave Campbell, tried to censor the school newspaper.

The Society of Professional Journalists has assigned a task force to conduct an inquiry into whether Schartz was unfairly dismissed.

Schartz has linked her dismissal to publication of a letter critical of Campbell and the newspaper’s efforts to cover the college’s investigation into allegations of academic improprieties involving coaches and athletes at the school.

Campbell’s predecessor, former men’s basketball coach Ryan Wolf, faces a 38-count federal indictment that accuses him of academic and work-study fraud.

Wolf’s former assistant, Matt Skillman, also faces two counts of federal charges similar to those lodged against Wolf. Campbell was indicted earlier this month on two federal charges related to his alleged participation in a work-study fraud scheme and has resigned.

A full-time communications and journalism instructor replaced Schartz in August.

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