Students’ Survey Highlights Censorship of Christian College Newspapers

By Service, Jack Jenkins | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), May 8, 2018 | Go to article overview

Students’ Survey Highlights Censorship of Christian College Newspapers


Service, Jack Jenkins, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


A group of Christian college students has released a survey that suggests censorship of student publications is not uncommon at American Christian schools, with student editors alleging faculty and administrators wield broad editorial control over campus newspapers and sometimes kill stories before publication.

Administrators at Christian colleges have a legal right to control their schools’ newspapers, and argue they do so to safeguard the values that define their institutions.

“There are certain sensitivities that you’re just going to have to respect about campus culture,” said Greg Bandy, faculty adviser to the newspaper at Asbury University in Kentucky.

Many student journalists at Taylor University, northeast of Indianapolis, insist the restrictions imposed on them at their newspaper, The Echo, go too far. They wanted to know if their peers at Asbury and other Christian schools share their frustrations — and the results indicate they do.

The study, conducted this spring, was not sponsored by Taylor, a nondenominational Christian school, but by the Student Press Coalition, which was created by the Taylor students.

According to the study, released on May 1, more than 3 out of 4 student editors surveyed said school officials have pushed them to alter or pull a story — a number experts say would be much lower at public schools or even other private colleges.

Although some students expressed interest in finding a “balance” with administrators, others argued the findings shed light on pervasive censorship policies that contravene the journalistic values they learn in their classes and could adversely impact their future prospects in the field.

“It began as an independent project to persuade our school to change its policies,” said Cassidy Grom, head of the SPC and former co-editor-in-chief of her campus newspaper. “But when we saw the data, we decided to go public with it.”

Surveyors reached out to student newspaper editors at 136 schools affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in the United States. (CCCU says its members represent “more than 150” schools in the U.S. and Canada). Including Taylor, 50 schools participated in the study, which was conducted through an online questionnaire after editors were contacted directly.

As for the more than three-quarters of respondents who reported facing pressure from the university to edit or remove an article after publication, “that is an entirely different number than we’d get at a public school — it’d be much, much lower,” said Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel at the Student Press Law Center.

In addition, 72 percent said faculty advisers to their paper have the power to kill a story before publication online (70 percent for print), and 34 percent reported instances in which advisers have done so (30 percent for print).

In total, 49 percent of respondents agreed “it is fair to say” their “publication is censored” by someone who is not a student at some point in the editorial process, and 48 percent said university officials have asked student journalists to stop pursuing a story while it is in the research and writing phase.

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.

Catherine Ross, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School who specializes in the First Amendment, said the survey’s findings aren’t surprising in the context of private schools. She said religious schools in particular have “understandable reasons” for exacting control over internal publications: Their faith-rooted nature means they prioritize specific spiritual teachings over the “freewheeling culture you would expect from a public institution. …

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