The University of Missouri-Columbia is taking important steps and making needed investments to improve race relations on campus.
The action announced Tuesday grows out of incidents of racism at MU last fall. That led to a student hunger strike and MU football players threatening a boycott. Resignations of the system president and Columbia campus chancellor followed.
A good first step was Mike Middleton being appointed interim system president and Hank Foley as chancellor of the Columbia campus. Other changes to improve diversity, equity, inclusion and race relations include the university pumping $1.6 million toward doubling minority faculty numbers to 13 percent in four years.
Some money will be used for faculty recruitment and retention. Other funds will be devoted to attracting minority doctoral candidates and getting them ready for tenure tract teaching jobs.
Those are wise moves. The university faces tough competition from other institutions of higher education and businesses for talented persons of color. Attracting and developing them is the best way to retain them.
The Star earlier this year found from data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request that of the 451 faculty members hired at the Columbia campus in the last two academic years, only 19 were African Americans. Increasing the number of black faculty members at MU has been a long-standing demand of black students there. Perhaps now university officials will finally get the job done.
Also starting this year, biannual campus climate and diversity surveys will take place on all four campuses in the system, including the one in Kansas City. This should gauge how well the university is doing with about $4.2 million to fund new diversity and inclusion initiatives. Evaluating the results will be important to determine what’s working — and what should to be discarded.
During the start of the school year, freshman orientation has included a mandatory and necessary awareness session focused on racism and diversity. Because of segregation in Missouri and in the country, many young adults’ first face-to-face, personal encounters with African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans is on college campuses.
Faculty and staff also are being offered Diversity 101 training courses.
These are baby steps, but they are important in making all students in the four-campus system feel welcome.
Having a calm, equitable, inclusive campus environment increases the likelihood that all students will be able to better focus on getting the most from their college education without exposure to racism, sexism, homophobia or other distractions. The problems last November at MU hurt the university’s reputation and were partly responsible for a 5 percent enrollment decline this fall.
That prompted university officials to announce budget cuts and a hiring and wage freeze because of the expected revenue loss of about $30 million. MU still must fill the top administration jobs.
The MU system appears to be on track to make positive changes. Results of these initiatives should be reported to the public so Missourians can see what progress is being made.