The Missouri Legislature and the University of Missouri

After the ugly events of last November at the University of Missouri at Columbia (MU,) legislators have been bombarded with demands from constituents to “do something” about MU, which is out of control and clearly ungovernable. For a summary of these events click here, here, and here. The problems at MU are typical of those at many American universities. Click here for more information.

Let’s first list some suggestions for legislative action in 2016 and follow them with a few observations filling in the background.

What should the Legislature do?

  • The problems are deep-rooted; solutions will be difficult in the face of institutional resistance to change and MU’s barely concealed scorn for the legislature and the Missourians it represents. The sooner the legislature acts, the easier reform will be before the state of our public universities becomes irreversible.
  • Let us stipulate at the beginning that the University of Missouri at Columbia (MU) is not autonomous. It is owned by the people of Missouri and accountable for its actions through the Board of Curators and ultimately the General Assembly, representing the people. MU’s tripartite mission is teaching, research, and service such as through the Extension division. Social engineering is not a fourth mission. State government has the obligation to ensure public colleges and universities maintain high academic standards and are fair, unbiased, and truly open to all, with no coercion, indoctrination, or litmus tests. Repairing MU’s and the state’s reputations should be a very high priority.
  • We recommend enacting the following first steps during this 2016 legislative session.
  • Protect all legally permitted speech.
    • Go beyond Senate Bill 93, signed into law last summer, which banned the creation of campus free speech zones. It should be made crystal clear in new legislation that public colleges and universities may not ban, punish, or inhibit legally permitted speech. It should also be part of this legislation that diversity of intellectual expression and free inquiry are mandated. Encouraging anonymous reporting of ‘offensive’ speech so those singled out may be punished should be unequivocally illegal. The goal of a university is to educate, not spy, indoctrinate, change hearts and minds, or insist on uniformity (the opposite of diversity).
  • Discrimination for or against because of race should be illegal. No single race may be privileged above the others.
  • Control demonstrations, occupations of public property, and harassment.
    • Demonstrations are exercises of free speech and should be respected. But shouting down lecturers should be meet with immediate ejection from the lecture hall; resistance should be a misdemeanor offense warranting expulsion. There needs to be legal clarity about when demonstrations become illegal “occupations” of public property and harassment of university faculty, administrators, and guest speakers. “Occupations” obstruct students’ pursuit of their education or the normal work of university employees. They should not be tolerated and met with possible arrest or expulsion. Violence should trigger immediate expulsion or termination of employment.
    • Appeasement of protestors’ demands has over decades only created more resentment and renewed pressure for even more radical demands; it should not be tolerated. The MU police department should enforce order on campus, not advise students to report legal speech to campus administrators for punishment.
  • We expect a see-no-evil, self-justifying response from campus administration. If there is substantial resistance and foot-dragging in implementing the needed reforms, more drastic action should be taken.

 

  • Withhold at least $20 million in state funding from MU and enjoin any tuition increase to protect students.
    • Withholding funding is a very blunt instrument, punishing the innocent along with the guilty. (If possible, hold the medical and nursing schools and hospitals harmless.) But wielded with force it will focus MU’s attention on the need for serious change. The lack of accountability among administrators has created an in-bred arrogance. As Senator Schaefer says: the attitude is “Shut up and give me my money.” The MU administration and many departments in the social sciences and humanities have been captured by left-wing orthodoxy such as critical race theory and similar viruses. The most prominent catchword is ‘diversity,’ which at MU stands for enforced uniformity of expression and thought from a leftwing perspective. The list of progressive grievances and solutions from the student demonstrators echoes perfectly what they have been taught. And that is a problem.
  • We recommend putting into place a process for identifying long-term solutions for higher education in Missouri. For example:
  • Reform at least the University Board of Curators, if not the entire system of public higher education.
    • Unfortunately the problem goes beyond the MU campus and extends into the boardroom of the Curators. It has been suggested that the Curators should be elected. This is a good idea, which may require constitutional amendment. To the objection that this would replace merit with politics, we reply that liberal politics has already infected the Board, a kind of politics not shared by most Missourians. If there is to be a constitutional amendment, let’s go whole hog and unite all public institutions of higher education under a single elected board, answerable to the Legislature and able to create and direct good policy.
  • Higher education costs must be substantially reduced.
    • Graduates and drop-outs carry an increasing burden of student-loan debt. At the same time students are less prepared to be good citizens and parents and to get a good job upon graduation. Let’s listen to Rahm Emanuel: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” and be bold. Why not for example a three-year, academically rigorous bachelor’s degree? Why not change the structure, governance, and thrust of public education in Missouri, not neglecting our private sister colleges and universities? Why not education savings accounts available to all parents? If we are not bold, the major challenges to Missouri higher education will remain unmet. It will take courage to make Missouri higher education a model for the entire country.
  • Strengthen Missouri’s community colleges.
    • A model for handling the crisis of affordability and exploding student debt is right under our noses: community college is pretty much affordable by everyone. So why not liberate funding from the state’s crippling swamp of tax credits and give it to those community colleges brave enough to create academically rigorous junior college divisions? Their graduates could then easily transition to MU or other distinguished universities for their junior and senior years. That should cut student loan debt nearly in half. Finances might require the merger of the University of Missouri branches at Kansas City and St Louis and their respective community-college districts. This too would be a good thing.
  • Start the process of changing the funding mechanism for public higher education by means of tax credits or vouchers. We need to transition toward moving state support away from institutions and to Missouri students and their parents. Students would be eligible if they enroll in any Missouri institution of higher education, public or private. Other states have tried this. It works. In this way MU will receive increased funding to the extent that it continues to attract students. Competition among the institutions will significantly benefit the students and the state.

Some background for the recommendations above.

The responses of the MU administration and the Board of Curators, which manages the four-campus University of Missouri System, have not been encouraging and in fact have largely acceded to the demands of the protestors. Quotas for black professors, mandatory training in ‘diversity’ and racial injustice, including for incoming freshmen, more highly paid administrators serving black privilege – these will make the situation worse and more unfair. Interim System President Middleton questionably blamed a “long-standing national societal flaw” for the problem. MU is not at fault, he avers, despite its racial mania and support of critical race theory, from which the protests naturally flowed. The Chairman of the Board of Curators, Donald Cupps, arrogantly claimed that it should be a goal to “change the hearts and minds of individuals that may come to our campus that have opinions that are not appropriate.” (Who decides what is appropriate?) The VP for university relations stressed the need to “be united and unified from bottom up and top down.” (Note 1) It is not the job of a university to change opinions some consider “inappropriate” in a quixotic attempt to ameliorate a supposed societal flaw. And the effort to enforce uniformity is, in the words of Larry Summers, “creeping totalitarianism.”

The MU campus has had a decades-long obsession with race, which has naturally led to finding racists under every bed and racist speech beneath every breath. Witness the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, the MU Equity Office (the mechanism for punishing “hurtful speech,” “bias incidents,” and other violations of PC policies,) the mandatory “training” (indoctrination) of all faculty, staff, and now incoming freshmen. We are past the point at which supposed tolerance has become intolerance. There is little to no racism on the MU campus. The few alleged racist incidents are unproven and like so many allegations on other campuses may prove to have been hoaxes. In fact MU is an oasis as free of racism as it is possible to find on earth. The enormous effort expended on expunging racism has had the effect of creating a very repressive atmosphere that in its single-minded focus on black people has become racist. Just think of the reaction were one to propose affirmative action for Asians, Jews, and American Indians, many of whom suffer discrimination because of the preferences for blacks. How about constructing an Asian Culture Center to parallel the Black one? Not that we are promoting a politics of group identity, just pointing out the absurdity of the existing situation. The only identity that should count so far as government is concerned is our identity as Americans.

Note1. Source of the quotations here.  Troglo

Troglo (L. H. Kevil)

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