- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - University of Missouri leaders told lawmakers Wednesday that while some reforms are already in place after a turbulent fall at the Columbia campus, other changes could take years to implement.

Tensions between lawmakers and the university system have been simmering for months and came to a head after November protests over what student activists saw as administrators’ indifference to racial issues at the Columbia school gained national attention. Protesters were backed by some members of the football team, who threatened to strike.

The turmoil led to fallout ranging from legislative pushback to roughly $2 million being pulled from upset donors. Both the university system president and Columbia chancellor stepped down.

University officials also say it might impact fall enrollment, although it’s one of several factors that could lead to a drop. Interim Chancellor Hank Foley told lawmakers during the Wednesday hearing that there might be as many as 900 fewer incoming freshmen in the fall compared with last year, which would be a roughly $20 million hit.

Foley, Interim system President Mike Middleton and Board of Curators chairwoman Pamela Henrickson pointed to steps the system has taken to address the concerns from students and lawmakers, who have said the University of Missouri budget will face greater scrutiny this year.

Middleton assured lawmakers that administrators have the system under control.

“The students are not in charge,” Middleton said. “But the students need to be heard.”

Henrickson said the curators are focused on finding a president and hope to have a permanent replacement in place by fall. She also said an investigation of Melissa Click, an assistant professor who called for “some muscle” to remove a student videographer from a protest area and has since been suspended, is almost finished.

Foley touted new diversity training, an 18-month lecture series on the African-American experience in Missouri and the appointment of an interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity.

Middleton said progress is being made to try to meet what he called requests from the Concerned Student 1950 group, which led Columbia protests.

He said funding has gone to ramp-up mental health counseling, and more money can be spent on resources for social justice centers on campus. He also said the goal is to meet a May 1 deadline outlined by the group to finish a 10-year plan to “increase retention rates for marginalized students, sustain diversity curriculum and training, and promote a more safe and inclusive campus.”

But Middleton and Foley said ramping up the percentage of black faculty and staff from the current 3 percent to 10 percent by the 2017-2018 academic year likely isn’t possible.

Imani Simmons-Elloie, a Concerned Student 1950 leader who attended the hearing, disputed that and said the demands are not unreasonable.

“We understand stuff does take time,” she said. “But people make time for what they want to make time for.”

University efforts to address student criticisms also drew fire from lawmakers. Republican Rep. Mike Lair said it gave the appearance that the university had unreasonably jumped through hoops to respond.

“We want someone to say, ‘This isn’t acceptable. You’ve gone too far here. This is more than you need to be comfortable,’” Lair told Middleton.

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