The problems at the University of Missouri-Columbia keep stacking up.
An expected enrollment drop of 1,500 students is forcing MU officials to trim general revenue budgets by 5 percent and lock in a hiring freeze to offset a projected $32 million revenue shortfall. The word came from interim MU Chancellor Hank Foley, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
The 5 percent reduction is expected to cover about $20 million of the shortfall. The revenue decline was separate from cuts in state funding from the Missouri General Assembly. That could amount to millions more.
The fall off in enrollment, alumni donations and legislators’ cuts are all tied to protests last fall of African American students over recurring instances of racism at MU. The Concerned Student 1950 this week pressed university officials to meet its demands to combat racism on campus.
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Black movie maker Spike Lee’s presence Monday complicated matters. Lee was on campus to work on a film on the Black Lives Matter movement at the university. But that cast the protest and rally by students as more of a show for the cameras than an earnest effort to move talks forward with administrators to develop solutions. The real and recurring problems of racism at MU need a focused and sincere effort from students and university officials and not theater for TV lights.
Last semester African American students with the Legion of Black Collegians were practicing for homecoming when someone shouted racial slurs at them. Earlier in the school year, Missouri Students Association President Payton Head on Facebook told of drive-by racial slurs he endured from white males riding in the back of a pickup truck.
That’s nothing new on the campus in mid-Missouri known as Little Dixie. What also wasn’t new was the scant attention MU officials gave to black students’ concerns.
MU graduate student Jonathan Butler last semester started a hunger strike, refusing to eat until MU system President Tim Wolfe resigned. Black University of Missouri football players in an unprecedented move with the backing of their coach threatened to boycott future games over the university’s failure to do something about the racial concerns.
That resulted in Wolfe’s resignation in addition to the resignation of MU chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. The campus activism was directly linked to the Black Lives Matter movement that emerged from the Aug. 9, 2014, police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., which is about a 1 1/2-hour drive from campus. The Black Lives Matter movement has drawn attention nationwide to the recurring problem of police killings of unarmed African American males.
The link of the movement to MU and the student activism it generated was bound to bring a filmmaker like Lee to the university. But for students’ efforts to actually result in substantive change, they need to ensure that the “show” that film crews create is not part of the talks with university officials.
Chuck Henson, interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity, on Wednesday shared a letter he sent to Concerned Student 1950 last week. A meeting also was planned with the student group Wednesday.
The letter said: “As you should know by now, President (Mike) Middleton, (interim) Chancellor (Hank) Foley, Provost (Garnett) Stokes, and I (to name just a few) have been meeting with hundreds of students. We are engaging in relationships in ways you may not have experienced. For my part, I have been seeking you out. I have invited you to come see me. However, as yet we haven't met.
“Had you accepted my invitation to meet face-to-face, you would already know the answers to most of the issues raised in your recent communication. As many other concerned students already know, much of what can be done to transform our culture is already underway. We have begun the work of generations by educating our fellow citizens in Columbia, our senior leaders, faculty, staff and new students on inclusion, diversity, implicit bias and the history of the African-American experience in Missouri. We are improving our ways of hiring faculty and staff by, among other things, requiring diverse candidate pools of people qualified to teach and work at a tier 1 research institution and instituting mandatory hiring committee education.
“We are already working almost all of the issues raised in your communication. These are the things that university administration can do for the benefit of everyone in our on- and off-campus community....
“You also would know, had we met, that I created a permanent part of the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity called The Working Group. The point of The Working Group is transparency, access and input -your input into how we transform our culture and improve our relationship. This is where student leaders, faculty staff and administrators meet to learn what the Division is doing and why it is being done. This is where I hear your input, criticism and ideas. This how your solutions may get incorporated.
“Much work has been done, is being done and will be done to make our community better for everyone who is a part of it. We are working on relationships that value all voices. We are engaging face to face, realizing that what we are achieving will be sustainable over generations. And who doesn't want better relationships?
If you sincerely want better relationships, the time for demands, threats and arbitrary deadlines is over — you don't need them. I hope you'll join me with other concerned students in The Working Group to get down to the work of building.”
Working for change always takes everyone’s involvement, cooperation and compromise.
Lee was in Columbia to see a documentary about Concerned Student 1950 at the True/False Film Fest, The Kansas City Star reports. The film Lee is working on is titled “2 Fists Up.”
It is to be released digitally next month as part of Lee’s ESPN Film series, “Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints.” It is to be on the Black Lives Matter movement at MU and the football team’s support.
Lee has produced such films as “Malcolm X,” “Jungle Fever,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Chi-Raq,” “She’s Gotta Have It” and “School Daze.” He recently among blacks in Hollywood pointing out that for the second year in a row, no African Americans were among the nominees for Oscars this year.
Lee, in addition to filming the protest on Monday, he and his crew interviewed several protesters afterward.
It’s a free country and it’s free speech practiced on the campus of the world’s oldest and best School of Journalism. But to effectively tackle the problem of racism on campus and be a model for universities nationwide grappling with the same concerns, student talks with MU administrators need to be off-camera but open, honest, ongoing, accountable and inclusive.
To solve the racism and accompanying budget problems at MU, nothing less than that will result in meaningful solutions.