Editorial Roundup: Kansas

Kansas City Star. August 30, 2022.

Editorial: Allegations of racism keep dogging this Kansas college. Time for a leadership change

Change can be slow, but in some cases patience is necessary. Two years ago, we called out the unfair policies that singled out Black student-athletes at Highland Community College in Highland, Kansas, including allegations in a federal lawsuit filed by a former women’s basketball coach and two assistants.

In 2020, the school settled other claims made by four Black student-athletes that high-ranking school officials discriminated against them based on race. The school paid the four students roughly $12,000 to $15,000 each to settle the case. It also agreed to new mandatory anti-discrimination training for security officers and other campus staff members.

Then there was the incident in February when school president Deborah Fox apologized for seemingly praising Adolf Hitler’s leadership skills, and comparing his negative influence to that of a Black football player’s negative influence on his team.

We called for Fox to resign after the Hitler comments, arguing that a change in leadership was necessary.

Finally, some evidence of that change is surfacing. Fox confirmed in an email to the board Monday that Athletic Director Bryan Dorrel has resigned.

“Dr. Dorrel recently had the opportunity to pursue other interests and made the decision to resign from Highland Community College,” Fox wrote.

We welcome that development. To give the school its best chance to rebuild its reputation as a place fair to students, players and coaches of all races we urge Fox to consider again her own resignation.

She told us she has no plans to do so, noting her contract runs through June 30, 2024. Efforts to speak about her job performance with Chairman Tom Smith of the Highland Board of Trustees were not successful. (Nor were attempts to reach Dorrel for comment.)

But the string of race-tinged controversies on her campus — where she was hired in 2019 and quickly appointed Dorrel the same year — should have been enough for trustees to understand the need for leadership change. Dorrel will become an associate professor in the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department at Chadron State University in Nebraska, the school announced this week.

The allegations in the former basketball coaches’ lawsuit are serious. They began with a complaint to the NAACP around the time the school fired women’s basketball head coach B.J. Smith and two assistants, alleging academic violations that were never later substantiated. In February, the former coaches sued in federal court, alleging that Fox, Dorrel and trustee Russell Karn instructed coaches in football and women’s basketball to recruit more kids that fit the culture of Highland, a city with a minority population of about 13%.

Coaches who fought to protect the rights of Black athletes were forced out, Smith and the two assistant coaches allege in the suit now pending in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas.

All three school leaders have denied the allegations made in the lawsuit.

Some recent hires in the school sports programs suggest some of the criticism may have sunk in. The new head coach of the Highland football team, for instance, is Black, as are four of his six assistants.

On the other hand, the impact of the allegations could be affecting the school’s recruitment. In 2019, all but seven of the team’s 111-player roster were African American. This year? The roster appears to be down to just 61 players, 17 of whom are white.

Students, coaches and players at Highland deserve to know, without any hesitation, that they will find a welcoming, supportive atmosphere on campus, no matter what race they are.

Until Fox can credibly make that case to the campus and the community, her best service to her school would be to let someone else lead it.

___

Topeka Capital Journal. August 26, 2022.

Editorial: Kansas Legislature needs to clean up complicated recount statute, but election integrity proven

The Kansas primary election is officially over. Recounts on the constitutional abortion amendment and the Republican state treasurer’s race found the same outcome with very few changes in the overall vote totals.

The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Andrew Bahl reports Melissa Leavitt, a Colby resident who has trafficked in election conspiracy theories, and Mark Gietzen, a Wichita anti-abortion activist, paid just shy of $120,000 to recount the results in nine counties.

The recounts confirm Kansans didn’t just speak. They spoke loudly, firmly and without room for doubt.

Bahl reports, however, there was some confusion on Kansas law regarding recounts. Under state law, a recount must be requested by 5 p.m. on the second Friday following the election. In this case, that meant the deadline was supposed to be the end of the day on Aug. 12.

But Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s office gave both parties until 5 p.m. Aug. 15 to come up with the money or modify their request and pay for it. They then gave counties until Aug. 20 to complete the recount.

“It is because the statute is very unclear,” Schwab said. “But we always interpret the statute as pro-voter or pro-citizen. So we did the best we could.”

Was it a waste of almost $120,000 and countless hours by a handful of already overburdened county clerks? Or was it confirmation of our state’s election integrity? We suppose that depends on who you ask.

Several county clerks told Bahl the close outcomes prove how hard and diligently their small staffs work during elections.

“I hope that is increases voter confidence,” said Jefferson County Clerk Linda Buttron. “We do our best in the clerk’s office to make sure that everything is done accurately and efficiently, and I hope that puts some more trust in our mind.”

Sure, the process was drawn out. We can ask whether Schwab erred on the timing and handling of the recounts, but it does appear he tried to interpret complicated statutes in a “pro-voter” way. We can understand his method of thought on the matter.

Perhaps the Kansas Legislature can take action to streamline future requests. We hope they will. Complaints and concerns about the recount’s confusing timeline seems mostly nonpartisan and bodes well for clarification in the 2023 session.

Ultimately, part of being in a democratic society means accepting winning or defeat with grace and civility. It’s time to accept the results and move forward.

END