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White Adviser Canned at Black Ga. Campus

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

White Adviser Canned at Black Ga. Campus

Article excerpt

Administrator denies link between firing and reporting; denies comments to reporters about Jewish male opponents

Wolper, professor of journalism at the Newark, NJ, campus of Rutgers University, covers the campus press for E&P.

JOYCE BAILEY, AN African-American reporter for the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, listened politely as Josephine Davis, the vice president of academic affairs at Fort Valley State University, fumed in frustration.

"How do I know that he [John Schmitt] is not part of that group of white Jewish men from New York City?" Schmitt is the adviser to the university's Peachite, whose yearlong investigative binge included an analysis of Davis' tenure at York College in Queens, N.Y.

"Dr. Davis thought Schmitt was connected to the people in New York who had cost her job," said Bailey. "She thought he might be Jewish."

Davis received a resounding no-confidence vote in November 1994 by the predominantly white faculty at York College three years after she became the first African-American woman president in the City University of New York system.

She resigned on Feb. 1, 1995, just before a CUNY audit accused her of questionable financial practices. She was transferred to Queens College for a year before her appointment to Fort Valley, a mainly black institution 25 miles south of Macon, Ga.

Bailey, who has covered higher education the past six years for the Telegraph, believed Davis held Schmitt responsible for everything the students published.

"Dr. Davis didn't understand what the role of an adviser to the student paper is supposed to be," Bailey said.

Schmitt, by all accounts, instilled a passion for journalism at the student newspaper when he became its adviser.

Student journalists criticized the campus police response to an asthmatic student who died, probed pricing practices at the campus bookstore and alleged the university violated federal privacy laws.

NO RENEWAL

In March, Schmitt was informed in a letter from Isaac D. Crumbly, dean of arts and sciences, that his one-year contract -- as assistant professor and media adviser - had not been renewed.

"He did an excellent job," said John Omachonu, chair of the communications department. "I was surprised that he was not reappointed. The administration has not given us any reason. It had to be because of the Peachite."

Davis denied in two separate interviews that she attributed her problems at York to any ethnic group and rejected any attempt to link her to Schmitt's firing.

"I never said anything like that," she declared. "Why would someone say I said something like that? It is totally inaccurate.

"The authorization for the non-reappointment of faculty is granted to the dean of the college. My office had nothing to with the decision-making involving Dr. Schmitt."

Bailey said the Macon Telegraph, a Knight Ridder newspaper, decided against publishing anything about her conversation with Davis or the tumult at Fort Valley because it did not want to be perceived as picking on her.

"My editors said we will run a story if Schmitt sues to get his job back," Bailey explained.

THE PEACHITE SPEAKS

Peachite editor in chief Anika White said Schmitt's dismissal would not quiet the student newspaper.

"They want to censor us," said White, the 22-year-old senior whose front-page story on Davis' past won a Georgia Student Press Association award. "But even if we lose Dr. Schmitt, we are still going to look into everything that goes on at this campus. The students have a right to know about all the issues because they are paying good money to come here."

White disclosed that Davis had expressed to her some of the same misgivings about Schmitt's ethnic allegiance that Bailey had spoken about.

"Dr. Davis said there were a lot of Jewish white men at York College who had wanted her gone," said White, an African-American student. …

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