Ousted Student Editors Now Run Weekly of Their Own
BUDA, Texas (AP) _ When Jeff Barton, Cyndy Slovak and Barry Kolar won the top positions on the Baylor University student newspaper, The Lariat, they promised to ″provide a more provocative editorial page.″
They delivered. Within three months, they were embroiled in a battle between busts and Baptists that pitted principles against the publisher, university President Abner McCall.
When Playboy magazine announced it would visit the campus of the Baptist college in Waco in the spring of 1980, looking for coeds to pose nude for its ″Girls of the Southwest Conference″ issue, McCall forbade Baylor students from posing. The Lariat said the decision should be up to the women.
In the end, the three editors were fired. Two journalism professors and some newspaper staffers quit. Scholarships for several students were not renewed. Metropolitan newspapers covered the dispute, which the student editors portrayed as an attack on freedom on the press.
Six years later, the three editors are still together - running the Onion Creek Free Press, a weekly newspaper in this town of 1,000 people south of Austin. Also working with them is Sheri Sellmeyer, who lost her scholarship in the flap.
″What Abner McCall did was take away our paper and made a big point of saying, ‘Well, I’m the publisher. If you want to run your own paper go buy your own press.’ And, in effect, that’s what we did. We went and got our own paper,″ said Barton, who is co-publisher with his wife, Ms. Slovak.
McCall, now president-emeritus at Baylor, said the students’ behavior got out of hand. Six years ago, he said the incident was ″like a wart on my big toe.″ He makes the same assessment today.
″This was just a passing irritant,″ he said.
As for the journalists, they say the Playboy flap helped them.
″The education was invaluable, in terms of understanding where you are and knowing where your breaking point is,″ Barton said. ″I think all of us feel like there’s not much we’d do different.″
The former students say they’ve stood up for each other countless times since the Playboy episode.
″If we ever get in a libel suit or if somebody ever tries to buy us out or if we really are in cut-throat competition, I don’t ever have to worry that Barry’s going to take the money and run and that Barry’s going to cave in and cut a deal with those guys, because we’ve already been through that,″ Barton said. ″There were plenty of times to cave in before.″
Barton, 26, grew up working at a family-run paper. Ms. Slovak, 26, and Kolar, 27, worked at hometown weeklies. Ms. Sellmeyer, 26, is the daughter of a journalism professor.
Barton and Ms. Slovak, then juniors at Baylor, and senior Kolar persuaded the university’s Publications Board to allow them to direct The Lariat for the spring of 1980 - Barton as editor-in-chief, Ms. Slovak as news editor and Kolar as city editor.
After McCall’s order on Jan. 31, 1980, that any female student who posed nude in Playboy while representing Baylor would face disciplinary action, The Lariat quickly championed the students’ freedom of choice.
McCall replied that the paper could criticize him, but not advocate disobeying his policies.
Four days later, a paragraph in an editorial criticizing McCall was removed by publications director Ralph Strother. Barton, Kolar and Ms. Slovak threatened to quit and were told to quit or be fired.
Associate professor Donald Williams, who had resigned over the matter, was told March 3 to leave immediately. The three editors were fired by the Board of Publications, and some staff members quit. Another journalism professor also resigned.
Reporters from across the country flocked to the Baptist institution. Some newspapers criticized the students; others blamed the administration.
″I think a lot of people thought we were naive,″ Barton said. ″Some people thought we were stupid. Some people and some newspapers thought we were grandstanding and made that clear.″
″They tried to make an issue of freedom of the press out of it,″ McCall said. ″I kept telling them, ‘Freedom of the press?’ It’s freedom of the publisher, not freedom of the editor or the reporter.″
Four Baylor women eventually posed for Playboy, one of whom was consequently prevented from graduating. Two others had quit school and the fourth had graduated by the time the issue containing their photographs hit newstands.
Barton and Ms. Slovak transferred to the University of Texas. Then, after graduation, travel and other jobs, the four found their way in 1983 to The Onion Creek Free Press, formerly the Austin Sun and the River City Sun before it moved to Buda.
The four journalists once wanted to work for large dailies, but have accepted their work on a weekly of 3,000 circulation. They also know they will probably never be able to escape the notoriety of the tangle over Playboy.
″I know when we first came back some old geezer came into the office one day and kind of hung around and talked to Barry forever,″ Barton recalled. ″In the end, he said, ″Well, I just want to tell ya’ll that I think what you did at Baylor was wrong, but I’m going to give you a chance here.‴