The University of Missouri is going to have a difficult time digging themselves out of the hole they are currently in. Stories like this one from the Columbia Missourian, are just one example of the image problem the university currently has. Janna Basler, Assistant Director of Greek Life at MU, was caught on video chasing away student photographer Tim Tai who was trying to record the student protest on the quadrangle. The video has been seen more than 2.7 million times. This is an optic that the university will spend a long time recovering from. It will be a legacy that MU has to manage as it tries to gain new students and hold onto the ones it already has because less students=less money. Make no mistake, it is about the money.

Basler is merely a symptom of the endemic problem MU has with its faculty and, more importantly, administrative culture. Michael Grinfeld, a journalism professor at MU wrote,

“Years ago, as I transitioned from my career as a trial lawyer to one as a journalist, I studied at a journalism program at a California state university. I honed my skills as a reporter for the school newspaper, covering the budget woes of the system and the burdens they created for students. The administration and faculty were eager to support the journalism students by making themselves available for interviews, saying it was part of their educational mission. As a result, I learned a great deal, enough to launch career as a reporter and a writer, and to ultimately arrive at MU as a journalism professor.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen none of that commitment at MU, and over the years I’ve accumulated many incidents of administration and staff obstructing journalism students in their efforts to cover the campus. It’s a disgrace, it seems to me, that at a public university where the journalism school is the crown jewel, the administration and faculty, for the most part, repress free access to information that should be readily available. Janna Basler and Melissa Click, the faculty member who joined her assault on student photographers, aren’t the exception, they’re the rule.”

Let’s hope Mr. Grinfeld can keep his job there after exercising his 1st amendment rights.

Meanwhile students across the state are in the process of deciding who gets their money for the next four years. They are examining offers from various colleges around the country who are vying for those dollars and, lets face it, those academic scores which will make their exit numbers look good. One excellent student here in Missouri received the typical courting material from MU reminding him that they hadn’t yet received a response as to whether he was planning to enroll in the fall. This young man is a well read, critical thinker. He is also proactive, so he decided to challenge the university to justify their offer.  Here is the brief yet on point letter he sent back to MU.

Dear MU,

What reasons could you give me, a white male who loves the idea of free speech, to attend your university when you have faculty members who have participated in the protests by trying to forcibly remove a school news reporter who was exercising his right to freedom of press?

Thank you,

To their credit, MU did respond to his letter. Here is the university’s response.

There are a number of excellent reasons that you should look at attending the University of Missouri…. [insert boiler plate university promotional language here]

Your reference to the video showing the faculty person and staff person blocking the media was disturbing, I agree.  I grew up in a journalism household, as my father was the publisher of a newspaper, and can tell you I was outraged when seeing the video. This matter is already being looked into as a personnel issue and one of them has already been placed on administrative leave, while the investigation continues. Meanwhile, both the faculty and staff person have apologized to the reporters and have publicly stated that they regret their actions. As you might imagine, tensions and emotions were running high on this campus during that week, which occasionally clouded good judgement.

I would also refer you to our School of Journalism website, where the Dean of the School of Journalism also addressed this issue:  http://journalism.missouri.edu/2015/11/dean-david-kurpius-comments-on-students-coverage-of-protest-on-carnahan-quad/ .

The Missouri School of Journalism had one of its proudest moments at a time of crisis this week. The students went above and beyond with deep, contextual and inclusive coverage on our NPR and NBC stations and in our community newspaper and weekly magazine. The student you saw in the video is an award winning student photojournalist who stood up for his First Amendment rights. These students did a great job and the awards are sure to follow.

I hope you continue to consider Mizzou as one of your college choices during your college planning search.

According to the one journalism professor, this whole episode was not a little woopsie that MU can recover from quickly with a couple of well placed student articles and some made up awards for valor for the victim of civil rights violations. These problems arose from the culture coming from the top down. This hardly falls into the category of simple personnel issue.

The very brightest students may decide to give the new leadership a little time to establish themselves as different from their predecessors before considering our flagship university. Interim President Middleton has already indicated that he does not plan to stay permanently so his role will merely be damage control. A definitive new culture will not be established until a permanent replacement is selected.  Interim Student Chancellor Hank Foley welcomes protests. In his letter to parents he stated, “What is currently happening at Mizzou is not turmoil; nor is it negative. In fact the student activism this fall at Mizzou is positive. What it shows is that we are diverse, tolerant and open.” The prospective student would be justified in disagreeing with the latter statement that what happened on campus demonstrates that they are tolerant and open. A student Chancellor who views what happened as a positive should give prospective students pause in choosing MU.


Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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