Courage has its rewards, and fear has consequences, some of them measured by conscience and some in dollars and cents. This applies to institutions as well as to men, as the University of Missouri has learned to its sorrow.
A protest by students, most of them but not all of them black, about vague and largely unspecified offenses, resulted last year in the resignations of the president and the chancellor of the university and for all intents and purposes the takeover of the university by angry students. One student vowed he would not eat again until the university president was sacked, which he was two days later, The football team, encouraged by the coach, went on “strike,” and “Mizzou,” as the university is called, was for a few weeks the best-known, if not the most highly regarded, institute of higher learning in the country. The hunger striker got his wish even before he got hungry (the football team sent him a celebratory cheeseburger).
Now the bills are due and the university is paying for the children’s hour with declining enrollment, a cut in cash from the state, and a sharp dent in its academic prestige. The marketing folk at the university are putting the best face on it. “We did receive a lot of national attention,” a university spokesman told the Kansas City Star. “We would be remiss not to consider that it would have some impact.”
However, he said the university was expecting a dip in freshman enrollment for some time because of “the last baby-boomer echo” 18 years ago, and some high-school graduates in neighboring Illinois and Kansas are passing up a look at the main campus in Columbia, midway between St. Louis and Kansas City.
Freshman enrollment is down by about a thousand students, and the university concedes that the controversy is one of the reasons why. “While we don’t have any clear data,” says Chuck May, the director of admissions, “we know that the events this past fall have had an impact, and we are answering questions that parents and students have about those events.”
The university has an enrollment of about 35,000 on the Columbia campus, and wants to increase this to 38,000. Michael Middleton, the interim president of the University of Missouri system, says he does not think plans to raise the enrollment must be changed, but concedes that “there are some parents who are reluctant to send their kids here.”
The controversy resumed earlier this year when a professor participating in a student protest was sacked for encouraging violence. Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communications in the well-regarded School of Journalism, was videotaped blocking a reporter covering the demonstration. “Hey!” she cried on the videotape, “who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.” She apologized and she has appealed the university’s decision, and the American Association of University Professors is investigating. And why not? This could be a good lesson for aspiring reporters.