April 23, 2009
Cedarville Student Newspaper Editors Pull Final Issue in Protest of Review Process
Students upset that administrators asked public relations office to review newspaper.
Cedarville University students will not publish the final issue of their student newspaper Cedars to protest the school's new policy that public relations staff review the newspaper.
"The public relations department, directed by university trustees and some administrative officials, now reviews, approves, censors and cuts the content of your student newspaper," Cedars staff members wrote in a circulated letter. They wrote that public relations employees approved every published article beginning with the second issue this spring.
The students write that review and censorship by public relations breaks the operating model approved by the administrative council on October 9, 2006, which says "The student editors prepare copy for print and take responsibility for making decisions, along with the Faculty Adviser, for what ends up in print."
"...the PR department's excessive attempt to censor Cedars necessarily violates our operating model, and the Cedars staff has thus decided to cease publication," the students write. "Review by the public relations department undermines our ability to think critically and engage culture. We grieve the loss of free expression and healthy discourse once found in your newspaper, traits that ought to characterize all vibrant institutions of higher learning."
Carl A. Ruby, vice president for student life, wrote in a campus-wide e-mail that the newspaper will not be in publication until spring 2010. He said that the newspaper will reorganize and return next year under a new journalism program.
"We acknowledge that finding the right balance of freedom of expression is difficult, especially in the context of a community of believers who voluntarily give up some of our freedoms for the sake of our shared mission," Ruby wrote. "This has been a difficult arrangement, both for the students and for our staff in Public Relations and we recognize that it probably isn't the most ideal approach to editorial oversight for the future."
Update: Sara Lipka at The Chronicle of Higher Education offers more details of why the public relations office was reviewing the newspaper in the first place.
Cedars attracted attention last fall after the Viewpoints section ran columns disapproving of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, arguing that "there was nothing wrong with homosexuality," and suggesting that "abortion wasn't a black and white issue," said a writer for the newspaper who preferred to remain anonymous.
Lipka writes that a counterpoint on vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin became "particularly touchy," which led to a decision by the trustees to have public relations review the paper. She reports that the public relations staff did pull material from the newspaper, including satires of Cedarville's mandatory Bible minor and debate over biblical certainty.
The public relations staff asked the newspaper's faculty adviser to ensure that the semester's final issue of Cedars had no controversial content. English professor Scott D. Calhoun eventually resigned from the adviser position.
"It was an understandable request but fundamentally at odds with the enterprise of scholastic journalism," Calhoun told The Chronicle.
Cedarville is a Baptist university with about 3,000 students and a member of the Coalition of Christian Colleges & Universities.