A new survey of Christian schools finds that student journalists face censorship in their newspapers, with some stories getting nixed by administrators for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the piece.
The Student Press Coalition, run by a group of students from Taylor University (a Christian liberal arts school), asked 136 members of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities to respond to a survey. Of the 49 schools represented in the final tally, the results weren’t what you would hope for…
We found that 70% of schools with student-run publications have advisers in place who can control what stories are printed. Nearly 20% of publication policies say the student publication exists wholly or partially as university public relations. About half of student editors believe it is fair to deem these or other policies their school holds as “censorship.”
Keep in mind we’re not just talking about schools like Liberty University, which is basically Jerry Falwell, Jr.‘s personal fiefdom. (He recently told a student journalist not to write about a rally in their city, organized by progressive Christians, which Liberty students were attending, presumably because he felt it was a rebuke to his own political stance.) These other schools function in similar ways.
Many student editors have felt pressured to change, edit or remove an article completely after it’s been published in print or online. Forty-eight percent of student editors have been asked or know of an instance at their school where a student has been asked by university personnel to stop pursuing an article.
Jack Jenkins of Religion News Service spoke to the right people and got to the heart of what all this means:
Chris Evans, president of the College Media Association, said the numbers echo his organization’s own research on threats to independent journalism at universities. He said instances of censorship “happen all the time” at private colleges because they are in a different legal category than public schools.
“It’s tough because it’s perfectly legal at private colleges for administrators to censor because there is no guarantee of First Amendment protections,” Evans said.
It’s disturbing because students may be reluctant to write pieces that reveal problems at their schools, or offer opinions that contradict the prevailing Christian winds, or avoid speaking with certain people who may rub administrators the wrong way.
In other words, they’re prevented from doing journalism.
What lesson are these schools imparting when they tell students to back off because they ask tough questions or shed light on potentially controversial issues? Do they treat their faith the same way? Stay away before you learn anything that might make you think?
It’s also putting the students in a tough position. After all, who wants to hire a reporter who comes from a school where censorship is baked into their journalism program?
(Image via Student Press Coalition)