By William Perkins
The withering attacks on Mississippi College (MC)started almost immediately after national news media picked up on a report from an obscure web site that the Baptist-affiliated university in Clinton had allegedly suspended an Afghanistan War veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for requesting a non-Muslim counselor.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth, according to MC President Lee G. Royce. “The errors and lies in the story have been expanded and repeated with great impact. We have endured thousands of calls, emails, and social media hits, all of it focused on our supposed suspending of a combat veteran for asking for a non-Muslim counselor. What utter, libelous nonsense,” Royce told The Baptist Record the week after the story raced across the country.
The flap began when Campus Reform, a web site connected to the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Va., published an article on May 25 by Gabriella Morrongiello that alleged a student veteran with PTSD was suspended and labeled a threat to peers after requesting to transfer to a non-Muslim “counselor.”
According to information on their web site, Campus Reform serves as a “watchdog to the nation’s higher education system, Campus Reform exposes bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses.”
The Leadership Institute web site states the organization “provides training in campaigns, fundraising, grassroots organizing, youth politics, and communications. The Institute teaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government, and the media.”
According to Campus Reform, MC student Jeremy Rawls went to a campus office at MC to acquire paperwork connected to his schooling. When he encountered a woman wearing a hijab, a traditional Muslim headdress, he requested that a non-Muslim assist him. Campus Reform reported that Rawls soon received a letter from the school suspending him for making the request for a non-Muslim “counselor.”
“MC’s hiring policy states clearly that we hire only Christians in all full- and part-time faculty and staff positions, giving preference to Southern Baptists,” Royce told The Baptist Record. “The student in question was not an employee but rather an unpaid student serving in the office as a fulfillment for her class assignment. She is a graduate student in counseling. Her job was to help students fill out various required forms. She is not a counselor. We employ only Christians.”
Royce is also troubled by the accusation contained in many web-based and network news stories that Rawls was “dismissed” for reasons related to his military service and PTSD diagnosis.
“It is important to note the student was not ‘dismissed,’” Royce pointed out. “Rather, he
was placed on interim suspension with a reintegration plan outlined for his return to regular status in both his classwork and his student worker position.
“Students are not arbitrarily suspended because of a disability. It would be illegal to do so and contrary to MC’s mission and professional ethics. Some stories have suggested the student was dismissed or suspended because he was a veteran. This, too, is completely untrue. This would be illegal, and also completely contrary to our history of supporting and assisting veterans.”
Royce said the university turned to established policy in dealing with the Rawls situation. “Following incidents at other universities, colleges around the country created teams of professionals to assess persons who may pose a threat to themselves or others. MC’s team of professionals, which includes counselors and retired military and security officers, reviewed the situation and believed interim suspensions were in order.
“Unfortunately, under the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act, MC is unable to release specific information about the matter, even when doing so would help clarify and justify our actions.”
Interim suspensions of students are not common, Royce said, but do occur a few times each year. “Like other universities, MC requires students placed on interim suspension to adhere to a reintegration plan and provide documented evidence regarding the fitness of the student to return to campus.
“The specific requirements can vary depending on the severity of the problem. MC staff is usually able to work with the student and family members to facilitate a smooth reintegration back into campus activities. In this
Significantly, Campus Reform retracted Morrongiello’s original article under a May 27 statement entitled, “Editor’s Note.”
“After speaking with the college and Rawls, new documentation has been released that calls into question reasoning presented in the original story,” wrote editor-in-chief Caleb Bonham in the lengthy statement, which can be viewed along with the original Morrongiello article at www.campusreform.org/?ID=6527.
Royce said Mississippi College will not be deterred from its vision of Christian service because the university inadvertently fell into the maw of the dog-eat-dog, 24-hour news cycle.
“We remain committed to the work of evangelism and missions which has always been a call in Baptist life,” Royce said. “Christian faith development takes place in prayer and Bible study sessions in residence halls, through mandatory chapel and related programming, through numerous on-campus ministries of the Baptist Student Union and Fellowship of Christian Athletes among others, and through a vast array of Christian service opportunities on campus and around the world.
“We greatly appreciate our 165-year, deep and abiding association with the [Mississippi Baptist] Convention and its generous support, and we seek our further service together.”