Spike Girls

College public relations head nixes student's story on Baptist Foundation

Ann Jardee chose to attend Grand Canyon University in part because she is a Christian. She figured she'd feel more comfortable on the campus of the self-described "Christian liberal arts university" founded by Southern Baptists than, say, in the crowded secular classrooms of Arizona State University.

But Jardee was soon to learn that GCU is more than just a Christian school. It is a Southern Baptist school. Even though GCU is no longer officially affiliated with Arizona's Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptists still dominate the university's board of trustees.

Now a senior majoring in sociology, Jardee says she works full-time as a computer technical support person to pay her GCU tuition. Even with the burden of job and classes, she managed to find time this year to serve as business manager for the school newspaper, Canyon Echoes.She also occasionally wrote articles, she says.

She loved working for the newspaper. At least, she loved it up until two weeks ago, when her story about a GCU professor who got conned by the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, a scandal-ridden Southern Baptist financial institution, was unexpectedly spiked by GCU's public relations director.

The censoring of Jardee's story begs the question: Did the GCU administration kill the story because it was perceived as bad PR for Southern Baptists?

"There has to be some kind of a decision made by the university," says Ann Jardee. "Is this a newspaper or a vehicle for the public relations department?"


Canyon Echoes sure looks like a newspaper. It comes out twice a month. In newsprint. Its editorial content is overseen by GCU's journalism professor. It is staffed by student editors and reporters who take journalism classes. And it purports to have an editorial policy that maintains: ". . . the viewpoints expressed in Canyon Echoes do not necessarily represent those of the administration, faculty, staff or student body of Grand Canyon University."

For weeks, Jardee had been working on a story slated to run April 26, the last issue of the semester. The story was to examine how a GCU professor relied on her Christian faith to carry her through tragedy -- she'd lost her life savings in the BFA bankruptcy. (Although Jardee planned to identify the professor in her Canyon Echoesstory, she says the professor would not allow Jardee to release her name to New Times. She gave New Timesa copy of her story but deleted the professor's name. Asked if the professor feared the wrath of GCU administrators, Jardee said she didn't know.)

Jardee says she got the okay to write the story from the newspaper's adviser, Lynn Karns.

"I did approve the story," says Karns. "It was a good story. I had no problems with it."

Karns and Jardee figure the story was -- is -- newsworthy because the professor is one of about 13,000 investors who lost a total of $590 million in the BFA bankruptcy. Each investor must cope with financial loss plus the very real feeling of being swindled.

In her final story, Jardee really does try to get at what goes on inside the professor's head. She quotes the professor frequently. For instance, Jardee says the professor blames herself for not being more diligent about her finances. In another passage, the professor notes that ". . . evil can be very present even under people with a religious façade . . ."

"It's average writing," Jardee admits. "It's not what I would call award-winning journalism. I tried my best to tell a balanced story about a person who was deeply affected by BFA."

But when Karen Mulzac-Frye, GCU's director of public relations, read Jardee's soon-to-be-published story, she killed it.

According to Jardee, Mulzac-Frye claimed the story "was not news" and "people want to get past" the BFA scandal.

"This [BFA collapse] was a devastating event in many people's lives, and to say it's not news is unfair," Jardee counters.

Mulzac-Frye, however, maintains Jardee has taken their conversation out of context. She says Canyon Echoes is not averse to controversial stories on any subject and has printed several articles centering on BFA.

She says she killed the Jardee story because it was "poorly written."

Her explanation doesn't wash.

In the first place, Mulzac-Frye is a former journalist and could have edited Jardee's story in a jiffy.

In the second place, the story that replaced Jardee's article is just as clumsily written as the spiked BFA story, but decidedly more upbeat.

"One of the most recent additions to Grand Canyon University under new President Gil Stafford is the Canyon Institute for Advanced Studies," the opening sentence of the replacement story says.

Not exactly Hemingway.

So wasn't Mulzac-Frye really just censoring a story that would make some Southern Baptists look bad?

"The bottom line," says Mulzac-Frye, "is that this is our newspaper. I hate to call it a newspaper. . . . It's a [journalism] class. . . . It's not a newspaper."

Read Terry's past coverage on the BFA at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/specialprojects/bfa/.

 
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