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College rein-in

Published November 11, 2012 10:52 pm

Westminster is too dictatorial
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It seems Utah's two mainstream private colleges have more in common when it comes to putting a lid on free speech than most Utahns might have suspected.

Brigham Young University, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has traditionally kept a tight rein on its students' behavior and public speech. But Westminster College, which purports to be a liberal institution — even ivy league — and emphasizes tolerance and free expression, has recently shown a surprising lack of dedication to openness and respect for self-governance and the First Amendment.

First, the administration ignored a vote of the student senate in the case of a misbehaving student body president and sacked him. Then, undergraduates received an email from the associate provost for student development, telling them to refer all reporters with questions about the college's decision to the administration:

"We wanted you to be aware that the college has been contacted by local media regarding recent events in ASWC and in response has released the following statement. If you should be contacted by the media, please refer them to the Office of Communications."

Nick Raoux made a public spectacle of himself at a Westminster-sponsored activity off campus. The college student newspaper reported that police were called to remove the student body president from a local bowling alley after he urinated on the walls and floor of a bathroom and argued with a college staff member.

Raoux has not denied the incident and has apologized. The student senate decided other sanctions were enough and voted to retain Raoux as student president, but the administration overruled that decision and removed him from office.

There is not much to say in Raoux's defense. As an officer, he should know and understand the college's rules of conduct. And, while he is of legal drinking age, there are rules governing the use of alcohol at college events. He was certainly exhibiting behavior unbecoming an officer.

The student senate would have been justified in asking for his resignation. But it didn't. If his peers in student government were willing to give Raoux a second chance, it seems an administration committed to tolerance and interested in giving students experience in making real-life decisions would have upheld their vote.

Issuing an edict that students keep mum about the incident is more egregious. Westminster is, after all, an institution of higher learning, not a high school. Students have a right to speak for themselves.