Monday, August 27, 2007

Covenant College needs help!

If you are unfamiliar with Covenant College you can ignore this post, but if you care at all about the place at all please read:

Covenant has made a grave mistake: the administration has claimed the right to censor all student publications, including "The Bagpipe" the campus newspaper. This document (sent to me by Covenant administration in response to an inquiry) explains the new policy in which faculty "advisors" are now required to act as censors of student publications. All articles must get have permission of the advisor before it is printed, and the advisor can even shut down the publication in order to control "inappropriate" speech.

The stifling effect this could have on free and open discourse would be disastrous for an academic institution. One of Covenant's greatest strengths has been that it has been both seriously and sincerely Christian while encouraging uncensored free thought and discussion on all topics. Now Covenant is in danger of becoming the sort of authoritarian "all Christian students should think the same" type of college that gives Christian education a bad name. Covenant faculty appear to be fighting this as well, but the administration doesn't appear interested in changing. I have Covenant's diploma hanging on my wall. I have always been proud of it, but this raises serious doubts about the direction the college is going.

If you are at all associated with Covenant College as an alumni, a student, or a member of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) please email Covenant ( and let them know that such an ill-advised policy endangers destroying the environment that has made the school great.

You can also sign the online petition here. Password to edit is "freedom"

(click on image for larger view)

The Integrator was a satirical superhero cartoon that I drew for the Bagpipe from 1998-2000. Feel free to email or copy the image to any Covenant related sites in order to spread the word.


Matt Barker said...

Jonathan, you've done us a service by posting the administration's policy document in its entirety. One thing that should be clarified: Is the title on it—"Covenant College Censorship Policy"—theirs or yours?


JD said...

The word "censorship" appears nowhere in the document. I used it in the webpage title of my own accord. The title of the document is "Role of Advisors, however I think "advisor" is a bit of a euphamism considering the job description.

Josiah said...

Based on the definition of censorship, and the stipulations contained in the document, the title doesn't seem to be unfair (or unwarranted).

Good point JD on "advisor" as euphemism.

And I do miss your big purrddy lips.

bethany said...

i've recently shared stories about the integrator with ben (my husband). very cool to see him dusted off and back on the shelf.

and thanks for your thoughtful responses to the covenant college censorship dialogue. i've greatly appreciated the spirit in which you have expressed your concern.


e. donovan said...

Thanks so much, Jonathan - both for posting the policy, and for promoting the petition to a wider audience.

the last of the steeres said...

its good to know so many alum are so involved with this upheaval. thanks for your commitment to the tradition of Covenant's liberal arts education- i fear that moves like this on the part of CC's administration are damaging the identity of our school and also tainting that certain something about Covenant that set it apart. love the interrogator, by the way. keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

did my comment get lost or did a push the wrong button? Interesting that all comments must be approved by the blog author... in light of the discussion.

Like I said, I may have not pushed all the right buttons.

JD said...

Sorry "Anonymous," I think you may have pushed the wrong button or something because I never got your initial comments. Feel free to post them again.

The approval thing is just to insure that real comments from real people rather than spam ends up on the blog.

In light of the time-sensitive nature of this discussion I am checking fairly often to insure comments don't take too long to post.

Mason said...

Having the complete document does sort of help to understand what the administration was thinking when they came up with the policy on publications. I guess it's just part of a wider effort to extend the college's ability to effectively babysit students. First through life in the dorms by ending pranks, now through the clubs.

For a complete picture though, I think we'd need to see how they define "inappropriate". If by inappropriate they mean promoting heresy, encouraging sin and wickedness, and / or inflicting pain on others, then I guess that's something the college has the right to pull funding from. But if inappropriate means lampooning the administration, dressing in silly outfits, or holding a demonstration critical of the war, then the administration is making a terrible mistake.

While I don't like the direction the college seems to be headed, I'll at least allow that it has the right to go there without compromising its mission, provided that the goal is to promote a Christ-centered community on campus, and not simply conform to an established image of evangelical Christianity in America.

Has the college provided any hint at what would be considered inappropriate?

Before I decide the degree to which I oppose this policy, I'd like to find out what guidelines are being handed down to the advisors.

Christopher said...

Jonathan, you said "Covenant faculty appear to be fighting this". But the linked post only concerns one faculty member: Cliff Foreman. From what I remember of my student days, Foreman's views were not always representative of the entire faculty (to put it mildly).

Mason's attitude seems wise to me. Maybe some of you know things I don't, but just going on the evidence to be found by reading this post, and by following the links, I'm not yet convinced that an oppositional stance is justified. Censorship is not an unambiguous evil. If a racist, for instance, posted a vitriolic, slanderous, comment on my blog, I would censor it. I would have not only a right to do that, I would have a moral duty to do that. Where should the line be drawn between legitimate and illegitimate censorship? And to what extent is it our role, as alumni, to judge the particularities of where the college draws that line?

If we were talking about a case of clear abuse, I would have no problem voicing my opposition. But if it's just a matter of a disagreement about where precisely that line should be drawn ... well, I'm sure that no matter what the college decides, some of us will disagree with it. And since I'm getting all my information second- and third-hand, I don't feel at all confident that I know what the administrations intentions are. If this is part of an overarching program to make Covenant like Bob Jones, I would be upset. But what evidence is there of that?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Christopher for your comments.

(from a concerned parent of a present Covenant student)

JD said...

Chris, you are correct that censorship is not an "unambiguous evil," but I think in this case is obviously a foolish and dishonest move by Covenant.

First of all, YOU should censor your blog, but if someone else decided your blog was "not good philosophy" for reasons they are unwilling to explain and removed your posts this would be an infringement on your rights. You should censor your blog.

The Bagbipe has always been censored--by the students that run it. The paper belongs to the student senate. The students have the right and responsibility to censor their paper. The administration does not. The administration in this debate claims they need this right to protect student's minds from filth and falsehood. This plays well with "concerned parents" like the recent poster. As far as I am aware the administration has not given a single example of anything egregiously false or filthy that their new policy could have prevented from the many decades the Bagpipe was under student control. And while they use the theoretical specter of journalistic smut as the sort of "inappropriate content" they need to be able to censor, they never offer a definition of "inappropriate" assuring us they would censor this and no more. The college expresses no interest in a discussion of "where they draw they line." The policy gives them the ability to censor anything for any reason.

There is no reason to believe that a Covenant bureaucrat could do any better job censoring errors from the paper than the students already do. Nor is there any proof being brought forth that the Bagpipe has ever printed anything significantly vitriolic or slanderous. But seems obvious to me is that the Bagpipe has a long history of being critical of the college's policies and decisions. In many ways this counter-weight to the power of the school is the role of an independent student paper. We have good reason to fear that silencing this criticism and questioning is the agenda behind this censorship policy.

I love Covenant, but it is far from perfect. Covenant desires to market itself as the "perfect Christian college," and it cannot accomplish this with a gadfly of independent press always pointing out it's errors. So the Bagpipe must "drink the Hemlock" to protect it from corrupting the youth. All censorship is not bad, but this coup of the paper by the administration is a case of bad censorship if I have ever seen one.

I admire the student editors, who had the courage to shut down the paper rather than allow it to be misused this way.

Christopher said...

Who pays the piper calls the tune. It was my understanding that the Bagpipe is published by the college, at its expense, not independently by the students. It was also my understanding that the student senate (which receives any authority it has over the use of college funds solely by delegation from the college) approved the new policy. Is this not so?

Since posting my comment, I have heard a bit from some present Covenant students, and my impression is that the Bagpipe was perceived by many to be mounting an unfair and unChristlike personal attack on some current students. Not slander outright. But still seriously inappropriate. My impression is also that the procedure by which the new policy was established was tactless and unwise. But both of these "impressions" are just that and nothing more. They are based on second-hand knowledge, gleaned from brief conversation. And this is what I most want to emphasize: I am not -- and I expect you are not -- in a position to evaluate these things fairly, comprehensively, and judiciously. In such as situation, we ought not be politicking.