MINNESOTA– Officials at North Central University dismissed two editors at thestudent newspaper last week after they refused to let administrators readcontent before publication.
The move comes after a decision by The Northern Light’s seven-membereditorial board to stop producing the paper rather than publish only ”goodthings” about the university, said Hope Bahr, the paper’s editor inchief.
On Thursday officials at the private Pentecostal universitytold Bahr along with her husband, Chuck Bahr, who was the paper’s newseditor, that they were being removed from their positions.
Universityspokesman Susan Detlefsen said the decision to remove the editors was notstrictly based on content, but based in part on ”a conflict of interest inthe hierarchy.”
”It was determined by the administrationto be an issue as to whether or not [Hope] could supervise her husband,”Detlefsen said.
Detlefsen also denied the Bahrs’ claim thatthe university only wanted ”good news” in the paper. She did saythat this was not the first time university officials have been in disagreementwith the student newspaper.
”In the past several years therehave been instances where the administration has felt the need to do a closerexamination of the contents of the paper, in those instances the administrationhas worked with the editorial staff,” she said.
UniversityPresident Gordon Anderson cited two main problems with the studentnewspaper’s coverage, according to an article in InsideHigher Ed, an online education news source. The first problem arose when ChuckBahr wrote an article on the Soulforce Equality Ride, a bike tour protesting the anti-gay policies at 19Christian and military campuses. Administrators were also upset with the student paper over an opinion article that questioned the Pentecostal doctrine of ”speaking in tongues.”
Anderson told Inside Higher Edthat because the university owns the newspaper and both are private entities,there is no First Amendment question in the case.
Because NorthCentral is a private university, administrators there do not have the sameconstitutional limitations in censoring student media that are found at publicinstitutions.
Although some students have voiced support for theBahrs, Chuck Bahr said many students have sided withadministrators.
”There’s a lot of students who seem tohave the opinion that the school has every right to do what they’re doing.They say ‘you guys are being rebellious,”’ he said. ”Idefinitely haven’t seen as much support from the students as I would liketo see.”
Student press advocates said that even without groundsfor a legal complaint, administrative censorship makes for badjournalists.
”I’m pleased that the students went public withthis change and I hope the negative publicity becomes a teaching moment for thecollege’s administrators,” said Tom Rolnicki, executive director of theAssociated Collegiate Press, a national organization based in Minneapolis forcollege student journalists. ”Student journalists at private collegesshould be given the same free expression rights, including no prior reviewpolicy, as their peers at publiccolleges.”
Hope Bahr said she believes that being a Christian means pursuing thetruth.
But administrators at the school would say,
”’Secular journalism is different from faith-basedjournalism,”’ she said. ”I disagree with that as a Christianjournalist.”
-SPLC staff writer Evan Mayor contributed to this report.