The president of the world’s largest Baptist school threatened to expel students who expressed views counter to university policy after a Feb. 27 editorial took a positive stand on the issue of gay marriage. Baylor President Robert B. Sloan publicly denounced the editorial because he said it violated university policy. Student publications should not “attack the basic tenets of Christian theology or of Christian morality,” he said.
The issue of gay marriage has become a nationwide controversy because it’s a debate between secular and religious world views, said Greg Tomlin, director of public relations at Southern Seminary in Fort Worth.
Chancellor Victor Boschini said student publications should have a free press. It is important for students to express how they feel in an academic environment, he said.
“As long as I’m chancellor, censorship is not appropriate for the administration to do,” Boschini said. “Not everyone will agree with opinions, but the right is there.”
Robert Bohler, the director of TCU’s student publications, said private universities have the right to supervise student publications since they fund publishing costs.
The administration at TCU has never censored controversial topics, Bohler said. Guidelines for the Skiff are the ethical standards set by the Society of Professional Journalists, he said.
“I don’t know of any time when I’ve told the editors they couldn’t run something,” Bohler said. “If something is controversial or not fit for print, they simply agree that a piece would be problematic. No overruling.”
The editorial staff at The Lariat, in a 5-2 vote, supported San Francisco’s lawsuit against California seeking to continue performing gay marriages. The piece stated that “gay couples should have the same equal rights to legal marriage as heterosexual couples.” The piece also denounced discrimination against gays, likening it to racial or religious intolerance.
Sloan insisted in a strongly worded statement March 2 that the editorial does not reflect the opinion of Baylor students, staff or alumni. The student publications board, a group of faculty and administrators overseeing the newspaper, also issued a statement agreeing with Sloan.
In response, Lariat editor Lacy Elwood said the editorial took a legal rather than a moral stance, and the Lariat news director, Richard George, apologized for allowing the editorial to run.
Tommy Thomason, chairman of the journalism department, said the TCU approach to journalism is different. A university is a place where ideas should be explored, examined and debated, he said.
“We don’t have the squelching of freedom to express opinions,” Thomason said. “We believe that even unpopular speech is worthy of expression.”
Working at a newspaper that is modeled after a professional publication helps journalism students learn to act independently, said Brandon Ortiz, the Skiff’s editor in chief.
“If you have Big Brother telling you what you can or cannot say, it destroys a professional environment,” Ortiz said. “We are lucky the administration takes a stand. This shows the TCU commitment to academic expression.”