Cedarville Sunset. Photo courtesy Jeremy Mikkola via Flickr Creative Commons.

Cedarville Sunset. Photo courtesy Jeremy Mikkola via Flickr Creative Commons.

“It’s pretty sad that a place that’s certain they have absolute truth is simultaneously so afraid of dissenting opinions,” said Zach Schneider, a senior at Cedarville University in what appears to be the latest step in a steady march toward an increasingly conservative agenda at the Christian college in Ohio.

Cedarville has made news over the past year for what has been referred to as a Southern Baptist takeover. Bible classes taught by women, for example, are now restricted to female students only, in accordance with 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man.”

Schneider, who is the editor of Cedarville’s independent student newspaper, The Ventriloquist, said that Cedarville president Thomas White and vice president of student life Jonathan Wood “forcefully shut down” the distribution of the paper on Wednesday morning.

Wood approached Schneider as he was distributing papers, and said “you don’t have permission to do this,” Schneider said. He then physically pulled the papers from Schneider’s hands. The school president also approached another student, who was also distributing papers, and did the same thing.

“I didn’t want to get into a tug of war,” Schneider said. He asked if he could have the papers back. White “stuttered for 10 seconds and said, ‘They’re being confiscated.’” White refused to return the papers, citing the necessity for prior permission, a requirement that is not found in the student handbook and was never stipulated for the distribution of The Ventriloquist’s 12 previous issues.

I contacted the school’s PR department for comment, and have gotten no response.

Last year, the New York Times noted that the resignations of William Brown, the former president, and Carl Ruby, vice president of student life were “widely viewed as strengthening the hands of the most conservative trustees, fearful of a more open Cedarville.”

Students have been struggling for a ‘more open Cedarville’ for longer than that, and The Ventriloquist has been an important part of that struggle: it was founded in 2010 as a response to censorship of the official Cedarville paper, Cedars, by university public relations staff.

The independent student paper, which is published with support by Generation Progress, a division of the nonpartisan research and educational institute Center for American Progress, has not always been well-received among Cedarville students. However, the issue prior to this one, Issue 12 (February 2014), “was quite popular — but not with the administration,” said Schneider, who speculated that one particular essay may have catalyzed White’s and Wood’s confiscation of Issue 13.

Issue 12 of The Ventriloquist featured  a first person essay by Avery Redic, a student who was active in student government and music ministry, and who also worked as a campus tour guide for university admissions. When administrators — Redic names Wood specifically — discovered that he was gay, they dismissed him from his leadership roles, although he had not broken any of the college’s rules and had remained celibate.

“With the Avery article there was less of the usual quick instinct [on the part of students] to defend the university…it’s on the record; verifiable. You either have to believe it or say he’s making it up.”

Comments on the online version were largely supportive of Redic.

Issue 12 also featured an anonymous article with the subtitle: “I’m Gay. Why I must live in fear at Cedarville.” All the articles in the papers’ first two issues (and many others) were published anonymously; much of the Ventriloquist’s reporting has been off-the-record out of necessity.

One student invited to comment on the situation declined to do so unless her comments would be “completely anonymous.”

“The university wanted the fundamentalist takeover but they didn’t necessarily want to get smeared in the press,” Schneider said, alluding to coercive silencing tactics employed by university administration. An additional source confirmed that multiple members of faculty and staff have been silenced by non-disclosure agreements.

Other students, such as Jasper White, commented via Facebook in favor of the move to shut down the Ventriloquist. “Amen! Go Dr. White,” he wrote. In response to other students and alum who questioned him, Jasper White wrote:

“It doesn’t matter who is in charge, God’s will is going to be accomplished no matter what; and obviously His will does not involve ‘The Ventriloquist’ at this point in time.”

Sarah Jones, an alumna of Cedarville who filed a Title IX complaint against the university in 2013 and now identifies as atheist, has published articles in The Ventriloquist as an alumna.

“What they’re doing is very important,” she said Thursday morning. “They’re amplifying personal experiences that the administration would like to silence.”

In a farewell essay — the confiscated issue is Schneider’s last as editor — Schneider wrote, “the goal of The Ventriloquist, put simply, is to counter ideological fascism.” But no student successor is apparent at this point. The future of the paper is, he said, “up in the air for now.”

Note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the university’s media policy prohibits students and faculty from speaking to the press without first speaking to PR. The policy applies to staff only.

46 Comments

  1. There is that great Fundamentalist love of scholarship and free thinking. Aside from classes on practical matters, I can’t see this school as being a center of actual education.

  2. This makes me feel physically ill, actually physically ill, Rachel. Cedarville should stop using the title “University”, since the notion of a university is a place where learning, discussion, debate and differences are all dealt with in a respectful manner.

    If they want to call themselves a training center, a Bible school, or whatever, fine. But a university they’re not.

    • I am so sorry that education with a Biblical emphasis physically ill. Cedarville is a UNIVERSITY and a great one at that. As a current student there are plenty of platforms IN CLASS to discuss, learn and debate. A journal published randomly that is only negative and written in the heat of someone anger about a certain situation is not that way to go about it. That is NOT a discussion. It is a one-sided rant.

      • That’s one of the problems, Hannah. It’s not acting like a university at all, let alone a great one: http://timfall.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/cedarville-not-real-university-anymore/

        Blessings,
        Tim

  3. The Great God Pan

    “[T]he college’s media policy … warns that students and faculty who speak to media ‘without first consulting with PR’ will be faced with ‘appropriate disciplinary action.’”

    If accurate, that is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in some time. Sounds like any students who are remotely interested in thinking for themselves enrolled at the wrong school. Can they transfer elsewhere, or are they locked up in cells when not attending class?

  4. before everyone gets all up in arms, I think it is fair to check out who the Center for American Progress is and what’s their agenda. They are a very left leaning progressive organization founded by John Podesta and run by someone who was formally on the Obama and Clinton administration and worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_for_American_Progress)
    Do not for one minute think that these folks don’t have an agenda and I am sure it is not free speech on a christian campus.

    • That’s all well and good Alice, but you do not claim any of the story is actually false or misleading. Only that you think the source is subject. Essentially saying they are liars but unable to actually support such an assertion.

    • Generation Progress provides grants to progressive journalism organizations (like The Ventriloquist) on college campuses. They don’t have any editorial control over what/when is published; they just provide funding and resources.

    • They were formally on the Obama and Clinton administration. Did they have to wear black tie or was just a extend your pinkie while drinking tea type of arrangement?

  5. Page 18 of the student handbook under demonstrations and disruptions: “In addition, those demonstrations that will be permitted by the University will be restricted to those that support views that are consistent with Scripture and with the mission of Cedarville University.” The Ventriloquist rebels against the beliefs of the University, and does so disrespectfully. Any student that wants to discuss such issues should do so with professors in class or in their offices, not through one-sided, hateful articles.

    • Well, Katie, I guess having an open and inquiring mind isn’t a view supported by the mission of Cedarville. The editorial only urged robust questioning of the status quo, the keystone of a real education. It’s sad you’ve been brainwashed into utter conformity while assuming the role of the Pharisees in blindly enforcing arbitrary rules. So, do YOU address these issues with professors in class? Your comment makes me doubt it.

  6. But Hanna and Katie, neither faculty nor staff can speak about what they really think. The administration won’t allow it. I am sorry you aren’t aware of the half of it. And now students who disagree with what is going on can’t speak either.

    • The media restrictions (that apply only to faculty and staff) are standard procedure for any organization. Even Ohio State wouldn’t let its employees speak negatively about the university to the press without risk of losing their jobs.

      Furthermore everything Hannah says is exactly spot-on. I attended CU for 4 years and the Ventriloquist paper was a running joke on campus. Everyone knew who the “secret” writers were, and the way they tried to twist CU’s policies was, frankly, laughable and anything but journalistic.

      With regard to those who state that CU is not a University by disallowing the V’s distribution on campus is extremely misguided. At any given moment anywhere in the school you will overhear serious discussions on philosophy, theology, and politics. The school encourages such conversations and so long as you don’t try to attach the university’s name to your statements its not an issue. As a private University they have every right to keep a paper that is funded by an outside group from distributing an adversarial and unbiblical publication within their own chapel or anywhere on their private property.

      • I know of no university which requires students to clear their statements with the faculty before talking to the media.

        Its telling that you omitted them in your statement. It makes the difference between a reasonable policy and an unreasonable one. Your willingness to misrepresent facts and spin is obvious here. Is it scriptural to lie for the sake of others?

      • J said: “At any given moment anywhere in the school you will overhear serious discussions on philosophy, theology, and politics. The school encourages such conversations ”

        Those conversations will now be whispered. Do you not understand the concept of censorship?

  7. Some of theses pro-CU administration posts protest a bit too much. Perhaps there is an organized effort to post comments favorable to the school? As a CU grad, I don’t know any alum who would endorse the administration’s actions, unless they were working for the school.

    It’s also sad that the substance of the recent V articles aren’t being engaged. The student’s description about the horrific way in which her depression was handled by CU should distress any human being.

      • I think that it’s very small minded to assume that if someone disagrees with your opinion, they must be lying. There are many students at Cedarville who do still like the school. Some of them may disagree with certain decisions, but see benefits that outweigh the negatives.

        Please keep in mind that a lot of students on both sides of the issues like to stay abreast of current news regarding Cedarville. Also, an article like this one spreads quickly on social media. In a school of 3000ish students, it’s almost impossible to NOT have a friend who likes, shares, or comments on an article like this. If a person cares enough to express their dissatisfaction with the school, is it really that unbelievable that others would want to express their love for the school?

        • Shilling is common enough in anonymous discussions not to be dismissed out if hand so easily. I have seen nobody post anything describing a positive spin on the events. One side complains, the other takes a merely defensive and deflective position. There is no upside for the students in muzzling internal complaints and criticism. Shilling for the school appears likely here

  8. If you don’t like Cedarville then leave. It’s really that simple. Most people are here because we love it. Not everyone agrees with the paper so don’t bash the school we love, just find one you like and go there.

    • North Korea. love it or leave it.
      Ooops. I guess I can’t do that last thing.

      Religion is always FASCIST.
      Religious schools are about obedience. Get in line, censor yourself and others and pray. Or else.

      • This has about the same effectiveness as calling all Jews greedy, all liberals communists, and all African Americans lazy. It takes the actions of the small minority and characterizes it as the overall disposition of the entire group. That to me sounds more fascists than any religion on the planet. And I do believe that fascism characterizes the agenda of many of the leaders of the new atheism, will you be honest and say that? Atheism cannot take the moral high ground anymore than religion can because men are corrupt to the core, the religious sometimes doubly so. We all hate dissent that troubles our sleep and makes think twice; so much easier to silence those voices. Fascism exists were people are so afraid of truth (scientific, religious, whatever) that they cannot bear the mentioning of it because it may mean that they are not completely right. When you seek malign and suppress religion that is what you are giving into whether you admit it or not.

        • @WILLIEBEMACIN,

          You are wrong on all counts.

          There was nothing I said that was racist. I insulted no group of individuals.
          If it is not racist to offer salvation to a stranger
          it CANNOT be racist to offer them the truth!

          Unlike your Lord who is deeply racist:

          They are “swine” (Matthew 7:6)
          They are ‘Dogs’! (Matthew 15:26)
          “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God … Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29)

          This means the seed of Ishmael – the Arabs – are not welcome.

          My contempt is for the religion. Your ‘faith’ says ‘do not think about this’, do ‘not resist’.

          Religion is like cancer.
          I hate the disease. Not the patient.

      • NOT Atheist Max

        Okay Atheist Max. You can stop with your comments. You are not aiding the discussion. Only trying to nag people with your ridiculous ideals.

        Love,
        Someone Who’s Not An Atheist

        • @NOT,

          So shutting down the conversation at Cedarville ‘University’ isn’t enough for you?

          You Christians prove my point. People cannot be religious and have anything in common with democracy or differing opinions. The religious MUST shut down the debate because religion cannot stand up to scrutiny.

          I have never told someone to stop commenting – I say bring on your challenges.

          But Christians are always telling me to shut up. They can’t get past my name. I’m an offense to them by just existing.

    • It really not that simple. At All.
      People loved this school, before all this happened. They aren’t “bashing” the school you love. They are literally telling stories of things that actually happened.

      Many people who disagree with where the school has headed are now Juniors and Seniors. Asking them to leave, wouldn’t make sense. Its just not that simple.

  9. The biggest problem with this whole mess is an institution trying to act like it is a church. A lot of the policies of surpression are appropriate in the context of the church (at least in the official teaching/leading roles). Cedarville is an academic institution (or perhaps it was at some point), not a local church. There is no reason that women professors should not be allowed to teach biblical subjects in a academic setting (even if you are a men-only teaching in church Christian). The gay celibate student fits perfectly with a man who has embraced a biblical view of his natural homosexual impulses; the school dismissing him for his sinful nature (that none of us lacks) is a disgraceful and frankly in disharmony with Christ. I also believe that diversity of belief and opinion is important in any academic institution as long as it is civil and peaceful. The problems come when an academic institution (fundamentalist, secular, or whatever) becomes dominated by one bias. The academy is meant to build a well-rounded knowledge and the ability to learn how to learn; you cannot do that by surpressing opposing viewpoints. When opposing views are nixed, it just makes the view with the power seem weak in its credibility. It is in the best interest of any organization in our age to allow respectful dissent, which maybe the newspaper was not providing. But then again, maybe Cedarville would punish dissenters? Perhaps both viewpoints need to stop letting fear control the situation, take a stand on their convictions, and let God vindicate or rebuke those who are wrong. And what is often the case? That both in some way are wrong. If you want only solid, biblical teaching; there are seminaries for that. This is a private university, it needs to strive for a certain standard of free, academic excellence.

  10. Buck Thornton

    If you don’t like it, then leave. What a great motto and mission statement. What a great recruiting tool for a University.
    And the Pharisees asked Jesus: is it lawful to send one’s spouse away. And Jesus replied, if you don’t like your marriage, then leave. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to stay there.
    I have learned the more you try to control things, and hold it tight in your hands, the more it slips through your fingers.
    You don’t like Obama ? Those in charge. Then leave the country.
    The Romans did a fundamentalist takeover of Israel. You want a Messiah ?Jews: you don’t like it, then you don’t have to stay there.
    You don’t like paying for birth control ordered by the Feds/ state/ leaders in charge. Stop complaining. Leave the country.

    Hardness of heart. Bullies. That’s all I have read in the comments.

  11. I’m not a Cedarville constituent. However, I have watched the changes at several Southern Baptist colleges (Shorter, Louisiana College, Truett-McConnell, Brewton-Parker, etc.) with interest. My alma mater, Oklahoma Baptist University, experienced some personnel and policy changes in 2010 and 2011 that were upsetting to many moderates. I started a blog in December 2011 to raise awareness about what I then feared would be a fundamentalist takeover. I blogged actively for about a year and sporadically the next year. You can read more at www.saveobu.blogspot.com.

    My observation here concerns Cedarville’s student newspaper. One of the alarming issues at OBU was the campus newspaper’s apparent lack of editorial independence. There was virtually no reporting on the controversial policy and personnel changes and there were few (if any) news-based editorials about campus issues. Twice in 2011, students produced an underground/independent paper called The Norm (http://saveobu.blogspot.com/2011/12/student-saturday-norm.html). The Norm was necessary largely because of the campus paper’s complete inability (or refusal) to adequately cover the controversies. OBU never had anything like The Ventriloquist at Cedarville.

    Even so, I was absolutely shocked to see how well Cedarville’s student newspaper covered the fundamentalist encroachments. Given that even the relatively moderate OBU has such an editorially timid student paper, I expected the Cedarville paper to be nothing more than an official mouthpiece of the Takeover. Instead, I consistently found articles that fairly and openly reported on goings-on related to the old administration’s tensions and the new administration’s fundamentalist-inspired changes.

    I have not read Cedarville’s paper lately, but I assume that in fairly short order its editorial independence will be dramatically curtailed. Thus it’s especially sad to see the administration’s crackdown on The Ventriloquist.

    • Prescient. The official student newspaper pulls its last edition to protest interference by administration.

      http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2009/april/cedarville-student-newspaper-editors-pull-final-issue-in.html#bmb=1

      • Oops. The official student newspaper pulls its last edition in 2009 to protest interference by administration and the PR department.

        http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2009/april/cedarville-student-newspaper-editors-pull-final-issue-in.html#bmb=1

  12. This is not anything specific to Cedarville. You wouldn’t be allowed to make a magizine and distribute it on other campuses. Even the “real universities” would not allow this.
    http://news.yahoo.com/another-university-stops-students-handing-constitution-023027168.html
    People overreact to things. While I don’t agree with the specifics of how cedarville went about taking mags from students I think they are fine, both morally and legally to do so.

  13. I did not attend the very fine Cedarville University but I did date one of their top male students and then married him a year after graduation. I’m a man. I know factually more than a few gay/lesbian faculty in the closet and I’ll never open the door on them but they are there. I don’t think this college will ever be anything more than a cookie cutter school producing ‘drones’ for the rest of the world to have to deal with……..

  14. What is it in there that seems to specify only faculty and staff? It only says University representatives. And why is it so hard to understand the concept of private university? No one is being forced to go there. They get to determine how they run their campus. I don’t necessarily agree with all of their dictates, and I might appropriately address concerns to faculty, but in the end if you don’t like the policies of the university, don’t go there.

  15. Paula,
    For those students that began attending Cedarville before all this drama went down, that would mean an unnecessary interruption in their education. They went there in agreement to the previous policies set in place, expected the policies to remain stable, and instead are experiencing an upheaval.

  16. As a Cedarville University student, there is no upheaval. Everything is exactly the same with different leadership. If you don’t agree with the way things are being run that much then interrupting your education is the least of your worries. I personally love Cedarville and it is still a great place. The Ventriloquist is a passive aggressive way to get a handful of students voices to be heard and is funded and run by mostly disgruntled Cedarville Alumni. As Christians, we are above this gossip and behind the back talking. Is this what Christ would want? For us to look exactly like every other secular university just to be in the 21st century and be “cultural relevant”.

  17. Things are not remotely the same, you are in pure denial if you believe that. Women not being allowed to teach men in the Bible department? How about losing over half of the Bible professors last summer? Do you think that was just pure coincidence? How about the fact that we only have 2 counselors for over 3000 students wit hover 100 people on the waiting list to get a single session (which is the most egregious offense to me)? This school is becoming a joke and I would’ve left if I didn’t only have 1 more year to go.

  18. Hannah, you seem earnest, but I can’t let the claim that “everything is exactly the same with different leadership” go unchallenged.

    Changes in leadership are substantive changes. There have been signficant departures of faculty, staff and administrators (including the president), and their personalities, perspectives, and management styles helped define the institution. We can disagree about whether these changes were good or bad, but there is no denying that they’ve occured.

    The board has changed significantly. The number of trustees who resigned or were forced off over the last couple of years is significant. We can debate the whether that change was positive, but we can’t deny that it occurred.

    There have been other significant changes. Elimination of the philosophy major, for example, and the firing of the two philosophy profs. There are upcoming changes to doctrinal statement, and the issuance of the “white papers” a couple of years ago – and the role they played in creating a justification for things like firing Dr. Pahl – are also changes. Big ones.

    You appear to like CU in its current state. I obviously have concerns. But I think we should be able to agree that there have been genuine and significant changes recently. Things simply aren’t exactly the same as they were.

  1. […] In the real world, we also have examples of schools like Cedarville University, which over the last year and a half has seen a steady hemorrhage of some of its brightest faculty and staff due to their increasingly conservative stances. Bible classes taught by women are now only offered to female students, and an independent student newspaper has been shut down. […]

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