Greenberg: A free press lives in Dayton

Greenberg: A free press lives in Dayton

October 10th, 2012 by Paul Greenberg in Opinion Columns

Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., made the news the other day, and not in a good way, when the school's president ordered the editor of its student newspaper not to print the news, in this case the news that a professor there - of biblical studies - had been arrested and charged with child-sex crimes.

The good news is that the student editor, Alex Green, found another way to report the news: He put out fliers about the arrest all over campus.

Good for the student editor, who seems to know what a free press is all about, and that if it doesn't find a way to fight censorship, it won't be free for long. Three cheers for him and something else for the college's president, one Stephen Livesay. He now has apologized for his poor judgment, saying that, in hindsight, trying to kill the story "might have been a mistake."

Might have been? Sir, there's no might have been about it. It was a bad call, an atrocious call, one that betrays what ought to be the essence of a college: the free flow of ideas and information.

Not even college presidents seem to know how to make a forthright apology any more. At least President Livesay made an attempt. So there may be hope for him after all. There's certainly hope for Bryan College, if 22-year-old Alex Green is an indication of the quality of its student body.

The moral of this story: When college administrators mess up, the students have to correct them. Gosh, didn't it used to be the other way around?

Historical footnote: Dayton, Tenn., is a place name that rings a bell. Wasn't that where the (in)famous Monkey Trial of 1925 took place - the one over whether evolution could be taught in the public schools? The widely reported trial (H.L. Mencken covered it for the Baltimore Sun) pitted William Jennings Bryan, the great populist Bible-thumper, against Clarence Darrow, counselor and skeptic-at-law, Not to mention religion versus science, or at least each of the protagonists' version of them in that headline-grabber of a trial.

Say, you don't think Bryan College there is named after William Jennings Bryan, the Great Commoner himself, do you? It is, as a quick check on Google confirms. His spirit, like that of the free press, is alive and well in the vicinity of Dayton, Tenn.

How little things change. In this case, they just get reversed. Now it's those science teachers who express any doubts about evolution, or dare mention creationism to their students, who have to fight to express their ideas in class. What was it Mark Twain said? "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

Paul Greenberg is the editorial page editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.