Dr. Joseph McRae Mellichamp is Emeritus Professor of Management Science in the Manderson Graduate School of Business at the University of Alabama and National Faculty Representative for Christian Leadership Ministries. For 25 years, Dr. Mellichamp combined successful academic pursuits with effective Christian ministry activities.
During the years since the beginning of Christian Leadership Ministries, university faculty members and staff who have been involved in the ministry have explored a number of creative ways for using newspapers to communicate an attractive, attention-getting Christian message to students and colleagues alike. The most common approach in this regard is the use of advertisements that play on a particular theme in student newspapers. There are also other, less frequently used, ways of using the printed media to reach out to the university community. Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful.
One of the first ways professors around the country used to reach out to students and colleagues was through advertisements in student newspapers. Walter Bradley and the Faculty Friends group at Texas A&M University deserve credit for coming up with this innovative outreach approach with their first ad which appeared in the A&M newspaper on May 31, 1983, the first day of summer school. The ad had the names of 24 faculty members, and it led with the phrase, "Faculty Friends is a group of faculty who are united by their common experience that Jesus Christ provides intellectually and spiritually satisfying answers to life’s most important questions. We wish to make ourselves available to students who might like to discuss such questions with us." I received a copy of the ad in a letter that summer from Mike Duggins, who was our Christian Leadership Ministries staff representative in Texas, and determined to implement a variation of Walter’s strategy at my own university. I have in my files the paperwork for our first ad at the University of Alabama. The cover letter is dated Feb. 21, 1984. A copy of our original ad which ran in The Crimson-White in the Fall of 1984 is shown in Figure 9-1.
Figure 9-1. Example of a Student Newspaper Ad.
As an aside, when I went to place our first ad in The Crimson-White, I recall being pretty nervous knowing the reputation of campus newspapers as fairly liberal. I could imagine all sorts of scenarios, mostly bad, resulting from our desire to purchase ad space for a Christian cause. The young man who helped me place the ad was extremely polite and quite helpful. After I finished giving him the information relating to both the content of the ad and billing, he asked if I could accompany him to the Xerox room to make a copy of the paperwork. As soon as we were out of earshot of his cronies on the newspaper staff, he turned to me and said, "Dr. Mellichamp, you don’t know what an encouragement it is to me for you and your colleagues to do this. I am a senior here, and I have pretty much wasted my time at the university drinking and running around. A few weeks ago, I re-committed my life to Jesus, and this is a confirmation to me that I did the right thing. Thanks." Well, so much for bad outcomes. This one encounter was enough to convince me that the newspaper ads are worth whatever effort and cost it takes to do them. And, by the way, one real side benefit of the ads is to encourage Christian students.
The whole idea behind the ad strategy is to have as large a number of Christian professors and staff as possible to endorse Christianity in a public forum on campus. Since most student newspapers are read by many of the students and some of the faculty and staff, this turns out to be a good medium for the endorsement. Ads have been developed for a number of specific occasions and specific issues. For example, groups have done "Welcome Back" ads at the beginning of the fall term to welcome new and returning students to campus after the summer break. Ads that highlight the meaning of Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter have been effective, as have ads that come just before exams or Spring Break and which encourage students to think about more than just making it through exams or having a blowout during the break. More recently, we have tried to use ads to address specific issues through a campaign called Every Student’s Choice, which we will describe later.
Let me describe how you might go about doing this type of outreach on your campus. If you already have a functioning Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship on campus, the process will be pretty straightforward; if you don’t, your first step would be to begin to organize a group along the lines suggested early in this section. As your group (fellowship) begins to come together, you should be able to initiate an ad campaign in the process. If you have a fellowship, the first step in getting started would be to float the idea by the membership and decide whether they would like to engage in this type of activity. Once the decision is made to proceed, you probably should find a member who is willing and available to coordinate the ad strategy for the fellowship on a more or less permanent basis as noted in the "Getting Organized" paragraph of Chapter 7. It will take someone a few hours of work for each ad, so for many fellowships, this has typically been a permanent position. Next, you should determine the level of involvement desired -- most campuses are doing ads on either a semester or an annual basis, although a few are doing several a semester. The ultimate goal, especially of the Every Student’s Choice campaign, is to do ads more frequently, perhaps even weekly.
Once the level of involvement has been determined, it is appropriate to begin to select the actual ads to be used. Christian Leadership Ministries has numerous examples of effective ads that have been used on other campuses; we also have media experts who are continually developing new ideas. In the past several years, we have provided at least one set of new ads focusing on a particular theme each semester. I suspect the average fellowship has a pretty short planning cycle for ads -- perhaps just the current ad, although it would be desirable from both a budgeting standpoint, as well as for having a comprehensive "marketing strategy" to plan for an entire year. And while we’re on the matter of budgeting, you can easily get estimates for the cost of placing the ads from your student newspaper. Rates vary dramatically from school to school, so you need to get a local estimate -- we usually paid about $800 for a half-page ad to run on two consecutive days. While you are checking with the newspaper, also find out what days tend to have the largest readership -- again, this will vary greatly from day to day. For a daily newspaper, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are probably best. And finally, try to lock in a good location. Page three or the sports pages worked well for us. It will help in this regard if you know a student who is well-placed on the newspaper staff.
Getting permission of members to put their name and academic or staff title is an absolute must. We recommend using university titles, e.g., Professor of History or Staff Assistant, Student Affairs, rather than departmental affiliations. Also, in order to include only professors and staff who meet some minimum criteria of orthodox Christian beliefs and who have a positive Christian testimony on campus, it is suggested that they sign both a release form and a statement of faith, which can be the statement used by the fellowship (see Exhibit 7-2 for an example). After several years of getting approval for every ad, we decided to go with a permanent form that remains in force until revoked by the individual. This, of course, requires that individuals have some level of confidence in those who are placing the ads or that copy be circulated ahead of time, so that if a member is opposed to a particular ad for whatever reason, he can decline to have his name used. A copy of the release form we used is shown in Exhibit 9-1.
This brings up a point about those who, for whatever reason, might not want to have their name associated with the ad. There are often solid, legitimate reasons why someone might not want to be identified in this way. For example, he might be in a very precarious position from a tenure perspective in a very politically oriented department, in which case it might be appropriate to "lay low" until tenure is assured; at this time, he could become more visible as a Christian. Whatever the reason, there should be no sense of condemnation or criticism from the members of the group who do elect to be identified in the ad. For sure, there will be those who are afraid to come out in such an open way in the university environment. Hopefully, over time they will see that they aren’t going to get killed or lose their job and will be encouraged to join the rest of the group.
A few notes on how to maximize the visibility of the ad after it is published. Christian student groups on campus should be notified in advance of publication of the ad, so they can alert their members. Christian students can often use the ads to good advantage in witnessing to their non-Christian friends by turning to the ad in the paper and making a comment along the lines of, "You know, I have suggested to you that Christianity is intellectually defensible. Here is a list of 40 professors and staff at the university who find Christianity credible." Many of us routinely clip the ads out of the paper, highlight our names with a yellow highlighter, and tape them on our office door or a bulletin board next to our office. Students and colleagues who come to our office will see our name and be impressed to read the ad.
I once had a really funny incident happen as a result of posting the ad on my office door. A colleague of another religious persuasion in my department saw the ad and complained to the department chairman, asking him to make me remove it. The chairman remarked he was sorry that our colleague was offended by the ad, but since my office door was actually part of my office and, thus, my personal property, there really was nothing he could do to make me remove the ad. Our colleague then asked if the same reasoning applied equally to him and his office door -- could he post "stuff" on his door as well. The chairman assured him that as long as he didn’t put up anything that was lewd or vulgar, he was perfectly at liberty to post anything he wished on his door. The next morning when we came into the building, this man had posted on his door a list of all the salaries of business school faculty with his low salary highlighted in yellow! People do read ads posted on office doors.
A couple of interesting variations have been used in terms of the individuals whose names are included in the ads. Some schools have included alumni and "friends" of the university, that is, financial supporters who happen to be Christians. Some schools have included the names of trustees or regents who are Christians. I had one professor tell me that he was catching grief from his department chairman, not necessarily from the ads, but just in their relationship in general. He suspected that much of this was a result of his Christian walk in his job situation. Then the Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship placed an ad in the student newspaper that included the name of a very prominent and very powerful trustee. My friend told me that his chairman’s attitude toward him changed dramatically, almost overnight after the ad appeared. Coincidental? I think not.
How are such ads financed? After all, 800 bucks a pop is hardly pocket change. There is a fairly general practice among fellowships that members chip in individually to cover the expenses. Some groups actually assess members $10 or $20 dollars for each ad. Our practice for many years at Alabama was to simply announce what the ad cost and rely on individuals to contribute as they felt led. One or two people would leave a check for $50 or $100 with our treasurer; several would leave a $20; some would leave a five-dollar bill. Over the years, we underwrote many such activities and events all on the basis of "do what you can," and we always seemed to have enough -- never a surplus, but always enough.
Ads in student newspapers are a wonderful way of working together with our colleagues to present Christianity in attractive ways to the entire university community. If you are not using this approach on your campus, I challenge you to. Years ago, I spoke to a faculty group at a very small college about reaching out jointly as Christians and shared the ad strategy with them. Several months later, I received a copy of the student newspaper from one of the professors; it was hardly more than a mimeographed newsletter. Right in the middle of the front page was a Christian faculty/staff ad listing a dozen or so names of faculty and staff -- in a newsletter! If they can make it work in a mimeographed two-sheet rag, you can do it in your campus daily or whatever you have at your school.
It’s pretty amazing how much more effective some of the opposing groups are in getting their message before the university community than Christians. Take a look sometime at the bulletin boards in your building, look at the announcements section of your student newspaper, look at your institution’s course offerings (my colleague, Bruce Barrett made me aware of this). Other groups are getting their message across. The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Association at Harvard University has placed full-page ads in the Harvard Crimson with the statement "Your Gay and Lesbian Friends Welcome You Back to School." The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has a stated goal to have academic programs on every major U.S. campus by the year 2000. There are currently 500 Women’s Studies programs with 30,000 courses in U.S. colleges. Many of these courses are used unabashedly to promote the gay/lesbian lifestyle to college students.
And how are Christians doing at communicating the message of Christianity on the college campus? Not very well. Apart from an isolated ad every semester or so, there is not much being done. In an effort to change this, Christian Leadership Ministries and the Campus Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ have launched a program called Every Student’s Choice (ESC) by which we hope to change the campus culture by raising the level of awareness of individuals on campus to spiritual issues. To this end, we have engaged media experts who are developing strategies to use the media to get our message before the campus community. A significant thrust of the ESC campaign is to use newspaper ads to address relevant campus themes. For example, one series of ads was developed for Valentine’s Day that the gays and lesbians have co-opted as National Condom Week. The ESC ads contrasted the difference between the casual relationships promoted by the gays and lesbians and the deep, lasting relationships that result from being committed first to the Lord Jesus and then to another person.
The ESC ads feature a local telephone number and a Worldwide Web site where the reader can request information relating to the topical focus of the ad. Caller information is relayed to the local campus, so that Christian volunteers can personally provide the requested information and answer any questions that may arise. The ESC strategy is not limited exclusively to newspaper ads; it includes posters, take-away materials, and much more. The ultimate aim of the ESC strategy is to have a series of issues throughout the academic year for which an attractive Christian position is being presented in the media. In general, the newspaper ads might be placed either with or without faculty/staff names. Thus, for appropriate ads, individual Faculty/Staff Fellowships might be identified in a sponsoring capacity; for other ads, there might be no reference to a fellowship at all. Detailed information on the ESC campaign may be obtained from Christian Leadership Ministries headquarters in Dallas.
One effective way of contending in the media is for Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowships to respond to campus concerns through letters to the editor of the local student newspaper. Over the years, we responded many times to a variety of issues including evolution/creation issues, Gay/Lesbian Association funding, homosexual lifestyle issues, and university-sponsored programs. A couple of admonitions are probably in order here. First, there are so many opportunities to respond to different things in the course of a normal year, that it could become a full-time occupation for the entire group. Thus, it is necessary to select one or two issues during the year for which strong Christian positions can be articulated. Second, there is a sense in which these communications tend to turn into long-running debates, and the one who gets in the last word often comes out the winner. Thus, it is important to make the strongest possible case in your response and then to move on to another issue as opposed to continuing to dialog with those who disagree.
The bottom line is that the letters to the editor format is a good forum for speaking out on issues that students and colleagues are asking questions about. Christian thought certainly should be represented in this forum. I have had many professors and staff tell me that they don’t read the student newspaper. I believe this is a big mistake. True, much of what one normally finds in the campus rag is trivial and silly. Some of it is pointless. But the campus newspaper does reflect the interests and thinking of the students, and if we are going to contend in the arena of issues, we must know what the issues are. A thoughtful letter to the editor from a few caring professors and staff can have a powerful impact on seeking young minds.
For a number of years at Alabama, several members of the Faculty/Staff Fellowship talked about writing a series of articles offering a Christian perspective on a variety of issues for publication in the student newspaper. And for years, that was all there was to it -- talk. Finally, someone, I don’t remember who, got tired of the talk and challenged us to "put up or shut up" as the old saying goes. So we asked one of our members, David Sloan, a journalism professor, to lead a three-week (over our lunch meeting) seminar on "How to write for the print media." It is one thing to write an article for a scholarly journal and quite another to write a newspaper article. David did a splendid job, and as a result, several members agreed to spend some time during the summer to write an article. Well, when we came back in the fall, in true professorial fashion, no one had even started his article. But we all felt guilty, and so over the course of the fall semester, seven of us cranked out short essays. Here were our offerings:
In his seminar, David had encouraged us to think about targeting the articles for the Op-Ed page of newspapers in the region. On March 2, 1995, I sent copies of all seven articles to 28 daily newspapers in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi. This was probably a bad tactical move on my part. We only heard back from one editor that he was publishing one of the articles. Others of the articles might have been published without the editor informing us. I think if we had individually submitted the articles one at a time, we would have had a much higher acceptance rate. Notwithstanding the poor acceptance rate, I still think this is a wonderful idea. Christian professors need to be influencing the culture. Think of what could happen if there was a steady stream of letters from Christian academics appearing in the Op-Ed pages of newspapers around the country.
If you have some good thinkers who like to write in your group, consider improving on this approach.
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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