So much for freedom of speech on college campuses.
If Missouri Rep. Rick Brattin, a Republican from Cass County, has his way, college athletes in Missouri would lose their scholarships if they took part in a “concerted refusal” to participate in a scheduled athletic event.
Brattin’s bill is in response to the informal “strike” that temporarily brought the University of Missouri football program to a halt this year.
Black players said they wouldn’t participate in practices or games until the administration met demands by a larger group of black students regarding racial unrest on campus. One of the demands was the resignation of university system president Tim Wolfe.
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Then-coach Gary Pinkel, his staff and other players declared their solidarity, and practices didn’t take place until Wolfe stepped down two days after the players first declared themselves on strike. No games were canceled.
Brattin and his co-sponsor, GOP Rep. Kurt Bahr from O’Fallon, Mo., subscribe to the unfortunately prevalent notion that student athletes aren’t on campus to think, express opinions, bond with other students or otherwise take part in college life.
They are there to play sports, and if they don’t want to do that they shouldn’t keep their scholarships. Never mind that at many colleges, including Mizzou, scholarship money comes from donors, broadcasts, ticket sales and other means but not from state taxpayers or student tuition.
Also, university administrations are empowered to revoke athletic scholarships for rule violations on a case-to-case basis. That’s a much fairer way to gauge situations than an overarching state law.
Brattin’s bill ought to be added to the scrap heap of his other bizarre legislative proposals. Those include requiring schools to teach “intelligent design”; forcing a woman who seeks an abortion to first obtain permission from the man responsible for the pregnancy; and requiring Planned Parenthood to erect a memorial for aborted fetuses.
University leaders in Missouri would celebrate if Brattin’s improbable bill was the only problem awaiting them in the upcoming legislative session. But other, more potentially disruptive bills stand a good chance of getting a hearing. University leaders also fear they will take a hit in the budget process.
With statewide elections coming up next year, ambitious conservative Republican legislators were taking aim at the University of Missouri system even before student protests in November student protests made Missouri a worldwide news story.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia, clashed with Wolfe over the university system’s decision to uphold a long-standing policy and grant a sabbatical leave to MU law professor Josh Hawley. Hawley is contesting Schaefer for the GOP nomination for Missouri attorney general.
Schaefer, who is the Senate’s appropriations chairman, then dragged MU into an overreaching investigation of Planned Parenthood, going so far as to try to squelch a graduate student’s research paper on the effects of the legislature’s law requiring a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion.
Even before all that, Wolfe had incurred the wrath of some lawmakers by embarking on a statewide tour to talk about the value of a college education and Missouri’s miserly support for its colleges and universities. Wolfe also supported a raise in the state’s ridiculously low cigarette tax, with the increase going to education.
These are perfectly logical positions for a university system president to vocalize. But they didn’t play well in Missouri’s tax-averse General Assembly.
Among the high-profile bills filed so far with implications for universities are two that would require schools to allow gun permit holders to carry concealed weapons on campus, and one that would make it mandatory for professors to post their course materials and syllabi online.
Another bill, filed by GOP Sen. Eric Schmitt of Glendale, a GOP candidate for state treasurer, calls for an annual audit of the University of Missouri system by the state auditor.
Schmitt’s proposal has the suspicious look of a fishing expedition. The university system already is audited regularly by accountants. The Board of Curators requests an annual efficiency report, and the administration recently documented $29 million in savings though efficiencies last year and a total of $77 million in the last two years.
While periodic reviews by the state auditor might make sense, an annual system audit would create the type of government-imposed administrative burden that lawmakers often rail on about.
Schmitt could not be reached on Tuesday to discuss his bill. But university supporters, who can hardly be blamed for paranoia at this juncture, fear it may be a prelude to more sinister attempts to dismantle the four-campus University of Missouri system.
Let’s hope that scenario doesn’t materialize. The University of Missouri campuses in Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia and Rolla are much more efficient and effective as a system than as lone entities.
Instead of declaring legislative war on Missouri’s universities, lawmakers ought to recognize them as invaluable educational, economical and cultural assets and search for policies to build them up, not tear them down.