Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Editorial: How independent is Chimes?

It’s a rough time for journalism right now. The White House has attacked the credibility of publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post, and our president has called the press “the enemy of the American people.” This is dangerous, because one of journalism’s key responsibilities is to hold those in power accountable for their actions.

A free press is crucial for a successful democracy. At Chimes, we believe it’s also crucial for a flourishing college. Chimes has a responsibility to be as independent as we can be. We don’t provide PR for Calvin. We need to hold Calvin’s leaders accountable, and that means everyone from RAs to student senators to President Le Roy.

The current Calvin administration has done a fantastic job of respecting our independence so far this year, and we’re thankful for that. President Le Roy and Sarah Visser have both told us that they’re committed to giving us “responsible freedom.” For example, the administration never requires us to give them prior review of articles before publication, a censorship practice that is unconstitutional at public universities, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

However, this hasn’t always been the case. In 1983, Chimes tried to investigate rumors that a chaplain was breaching confidentiality rules, but the administration wouldn’t talk to Chimes reporters.

When Chimes tried to publish an editorial recounting their struggle with the administration, then-college president Anthony Diekema, along with the Communications Board, ordered Chimes not to print the editorial. The Board claimed that the editorial violated the board’s policy of “responsible freedom” and argued that “further treatment of this subject at this time would break down rather than build up the Christian community at Calvin College.”

Chimes staff decided to print the editorial anyway, accompanied by the Board’s notice of censorship and the staff’s rationale for printing the piece.

The staff wrote, “Chimes maintains that the responsibility required of us by the policy of responsible freedom is not that we cater to some influential readers of Chimes such as the administration, but instead a dedication to providing the students of Calvin College with vital critique and information about that which occurs in their world. No publication can function properly under the oppression of censurship [sic].”  

In response, the administration fired nearly the entirety of the Chimes staff and suspended the paper for five weeks.

So while we respect and trust Calvin’s current administration, we want our readers to be aware that censorship has happened at Calvin and could happen again.

Part of the reason that censorship could happen again is that, while we trust our administration’s respect for us, their respect is not legally binding. In fact, as students of a private religious institution, we have no legal right to freedom of speech at all.

Chimes, along with Dialogue, is currently overseen by the Student Publications Committee (SPC), which includes the Chimes and Dialogue editors as well as faculty members, a student life representative, a Chimes alumna and a student senator.

The committee is designed to protect Chimes in case our coverage provokes backlash, but it can also force us to show them a story before publication and “instruct us” regarding coverage.

The SPC is new this year, so these rules haven’t been tested. We have no reason to think that the committee will prevent us from publishing something we think should be published, but it’s not impossible.

Because Calvin is a private college, Chimes does not have first amendment freedom of the press. It’s perfectly legal for the administration to censor us, and there’s little hope of changing that. Only one state, California, has a law protecting the freedom of student media at private colleges, but even in California, religiously-affiliated colleges are exempt from such laws protecting student speech.

We want you, our readers, to be fully educated about our role, as well as the limitations we face in that role. We are grateful that we go to a private Christian college that grants us as much freedom, trust and respect as Calvin does. But we don’t know what the future may bring.

In light of this, we maintain that our responsibility is to our readers and our readers alone. We will strive to provide the best possible information about what is happening at Calvin College, regardless of the consequences.

Photo from Student Press Law Center Journal. Screenshot by Carolyn Muyskens

For more information on issues like this, see the Student Press Law Center at

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