TCU Daily Skiff Wednesday, February 11, 2004
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Brite students warned not to comment on rumors
Brite students are told they can only respond to questions of alleged investigations of faculty members by saying they are not allowed to comment.

By Elizabeth Bassett
Staff Reporter


A Brite Divinity School administrator has threatened to take disciplinary action against students who comment on possible allegations regarding complaints against faculty members.

The warning came in a mass e-mail Friday to Brite students containing a message from Bryan Feille, the associate dean of student affairs. Feille told students that if they are asked about “alleged investigations and the outcomes,” they can only say that it’s Brite’s policy not to comment on investigations, to protect all parties. A copy of the e-mail was obtained by the TCU Daily Skiff.

“Any student who answers differently will be subject to disciplinary action,” the e-mail states.

Feille’s warning comes in the wake of a regional church investigation of alleged sexual misconduct by Brite’s director of field education Stephen Sprinkle, as detailed in court affidavits from various Christian Church officials. The affidavits were submitted in response to a petition requesting depositions filed by Sprinkle in October. Among those who submitted an affidavit is Ben Hubert, who Sprinkle says barred him from interviewing ministerial candidates because Sprinkle is gay.

Brite conducts its own investigations into accusations of sexual misconduct. Ann Sewell, Brite’s sexual harassment officer, said there are no ongoing investigations against anyone. She would not comment on any other questions, including whether Sprinkle was accused of sexually harassing a student.

Sewell sent an e-mail to all Brite students, faculty and staff Thursday telling students there is no ongoing investigation. Sewell’s e-mail also asks that all “inappropriate rumor or innuendo” stop.

Feille said Tuesday he sent the e-mail to restate Brite’s policy of confidentiality for anything concerning complaints or investigations in the school.

“Anything regarding an investigation is not to be talked about,” he said. “We have no investigation going on, period.”

Media law experts said that Brite has the authority to enforce the warning.

“Whatever the e-mail says goes,” said Adam Goldstein, a news media legal fellow for the Student Press Law Center. “They can make any rules they want.”

Mark Goodman, SPLC’s executive director, said Brite is not limited by the First Amendment because it is a private school. At a public institution there is no way such a policy could be enforced, he said.

Feille said the Brite policy was to protect everyone involved in possible investigations and the policy will be enforced according to the procedures for student misconduct.

When asked if this e-mail might be infringing on students’ First Amendment right of free speech, Feille said he wasn’t sure of the technicalities regarding the law. The e-mail is meant to discourage students from spreading rumors, he said.

“Free speech doesn’t give you the right to yell fire in a crowded theater,” Feille said.
 
 
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