Throughout the last year, FIRE has periodically reported on the status of Karen Bosley, who was removed from her position as faculty adviser to the student paper, the Viking News, at Ocean County College (OCC). Last Thursday, OCC’s Board of Trustees settled a lawsuit filed by students claiming that Bosley’s removal was an act of censorship. As the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) and the Associated Press report, the settlement permanently reinstated Bosley as adviser and reaffirmed freedom of the press at OCC.
In May 2006, students filed a lawsuit (Coppola v. Larson, No. 06-2138 (N.J.)) claiming that Bosley’s removal was a form of unconstitutional censorship. Bosley, who had served as the paper’s adviser for 35 years and formerly sat on the SPLC’s Board of Directors, later filed a lawsuit of her own claiming her removal was a result of age discrimination and retaliation for allowing stories critical of OCC President Jon Larson to run in the paper. Bosley’s suit also claims that OCC’s retaliation extended to banning her from teaching journalism classes she’d taught for years at the college.
In July of last year, Bosley was granted a preliminary injunction that temporarily reinstated her as adviser. According to a FOXNews.com story, U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler, who granted the injunction, “said Bosley’s being dumped would have a ‘chilling effect’ on freedom of expression.”
The group College Media Advisers, Inc. (CMA), which advocates for freedom of the press and best practices in student media, had opposed OCC’s actions against Bosley and placed OCC on its list of “censured” institutions.
At a meeting last Thursday night, OCC’s Board of Trustees and the students suing the college reached a settlement that permanently reinstated Bosley.
The trustees also proffered a clear statement on press freedom at OCC. The statement says:
The Ocean County College President and Board of Trustees vigorously support the rights and freedoms granted to each member of the college community by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Ocean County College supports the free speech rights of students and employees and a student press free from prior review, prior restraint, or censorship as well as recognizes all student media as limited public forums. Ocean County College encourages its student journalists to be independent thinkers, and it encourages all members of the college community to express their views. Therefore, the exercise of these rights or freedoms cannot be the subject directly or indirectly of any sanction or dismissal from Ocean County College.
While this settlement marks an end to the students’ lawsuit, Bosley will continue with her lawsuit against the college, as the journalism classes she once taught have not yet been returned to her.