Administrators at Cedarville University, a Baptist institution in Ohio, have openly admitted to confiscating all the copies of an alternative student publication that had recently written in support of gays and lesbians and criticized university officials.
The publication's staff seems just as puzzled as to why administrators are obsessed with preventing the latest issue from getting into students' hands. Ventriloquist editor Zach Schneider recalled Wednesday morning's events in an interview with Generation Progress, which funds the publication through our Journalism Network.
Schneider said the copies were confiscated following a mandatory chapel service for all students, which is when the publication's staff typically distribute new issues. University President Thomas White and Vice President for Student Life Jonathan A. Wood took the copies from Schneider and his colleagues.
"[Wood] came up to me and said I didn't have permission to pass out [The Ventriloquist] and he grabbed the copies from my hands," Schneider said. "I let him have them because I didn't want to get into a tug-of-war, but asked if I could have the copies back. He just told me they were being confiscated."
In addition to supporting LGBT equality, the paper had come under attack recently for having a liberal bias. Recent articles included a plea for "egalitarian Christianity" and one student's renunciation of apocalyptic "fundamentalism."
In announcing his resignation from the paper this month, Schneider said he'd been attacked by students and officials for "attempting to 'destroy the university' with my 'anti-God' agenda." He called the confiscation of the papers "likely the latest in a series of shifts towards right-wing religious fundamentalism by the new administration," adding that "the university no longer permits male students to enroll in Bible classes taught by women."
As a private Baptist-affiliated university, Cedarville has the right to impose limitations on its students' speech, and certainly chapel seemed like an impolitic time and place to distribute alternative literature. But it's still bizarre to see a university spokesman openly admit that the school's president and VP had physically seized the papers there and then:
[T]he university's Executive Director of Public Relations, Mark Weinstein, did provide answers to our questions.
"Yes, they were confiscated," Weinstein said, when asked if school administrators had collected the copies of the recent issue. "Our school has policies for soliciting and [students] need permission to distribute. It was checked and [The Ventriloquist] did not have permission."
Which Schneider said is odd, as the publication has been distributing its issues since 2010 without any problems.
The news was first reported by Generation Progress, an arm of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, which funds The Ventriloquist through Generation Progress and its Campus Progress journalism program (all told, that's a lot of "progress").
Politically supported alternative campus papers are nothing new. The conservative Leadership Institute and Intercollegiate Studies Institute have long funded right-leaning students with journalistic ambitions on college campuses; Campus Progress and Generation Progress are similarly left-aligned.
In fact, according to Gen Progress, The Ventriloquist was begun after students quit publishing the university's official newspaper in 2009, when officials imposed a pre-publication review process at the school-run paper amid alumni complaints about too many "liberal articles" getting into print.
Given that background, The Ventriloquist's recent pro-LGBT turn and its patron organization's complaints may be a manufactured political tempest. But if it advances the cause of equal rights on private college campuses, it may be a worthy one, too.
[Photo credit: Cedarville University]