Adversity can compel people and institutions to accomplish great things. That apparently has been the case at the University of Missouri.
Despite a year of racial tension, campus unrest, the resignation of top academic officials and threats from the Missouri legislature, MU raised a record $171 million in fiscal year 2016, running through June 30.
That amount eclipses the 2014 record of $164.5 million and helped swell the Mizzou: Our Time to Lead campaign to $762 million toward a goal of $1.3 billion.
“It was a great show of support by our alum,” said Todd McCubbin, executive director of the Mizzou Alumni Association and its 44,000 members.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
That’s quite a turnaround considering that the university in October feared it might lose $5 million in gifts after months of turmoil on campus — which continued this week when Mack Rhoades abruptly resigned as athletic director.
MU graduates and supporters would have had to live in one of Missouri’s deepest limestone caves with no cellphone or internet service to miss the national news the university made in the 2015-2016 school year.
At the start of it, graduate students and the university administration were at odds over health care benefits.
Later in the fall, black students protested ongoing incidents of racism on campus, the need for more black faculty members and the inaction of university officials. Black football players threatened to boycott a regular season game.
That broke the logjam, resulting in the resignations of the MU system president and Columbia campus chancellor. An interim president and chancellor have been appointed.
Piling on, the Missouri General Assembly threatened to cut MU’s funding over its handling of the disputes but correctly backed away from doing so.
The turbulence has contributed to an alarming 2,600-student drop in enrollment this fall, ending at a projected 32,400. University officials proactively have cut budgets and frozen hiring and wages to offset the tuition revenue decline of more than $36 million.
Republican candidates for Missouri governor also have made criticism of MU part of their campaigns.
Businessman John Brunner said at a debate this week that the board of curators should end the search for a new MU system president until the next governor can appoint a new board. But that could postpone such a hiring until early 2017, at least another six to nine months.
Former House speaker Catherine Hanaway added her voice to calls for MU football players’ scholarships to be revoked for their threatened boycott.
That is political nonsense. College students are supposed to learn and be fully engaged on campus, and that includes social activism.
Even with all the strife on campus, university officials were right to turn to loyal donors for more support of MU’s goal to continue its role as a first-class institution of higher education.
The alumni came through, providing donations ranging from $1 to a $25 million gift from the Kinder Foundation to create the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy.
The spring Mizzou alumni association magazine also openly explained the campus controversies to MU graduates receiving the publication. It notes that the university has a lot of work to do to meet the challenges that the increasing diversity of students raised.
In one recent success, summer enrollment was up 2.2 percent to 13,697 students, an all-time high.
With the alumni’s help and a more responsive and inclusive administration and faculty, the University of Missouri can overcome its many challenges and better serve its students.