UPDATE (7/11/17): School administration has replied to the New York Times’ story. In an official statement, university leaders denote specific material omitted from the Times’ report, which, had it been included, may have provided much-needed context.
UPDATE (7/10/17): MU Student Body President Nathan Willett has addressed the New York Times’ story in a guest commentary for the Kansas City Star. Willett says the report paints “an unreasonably and inaccurately bleak image” of the university.
Sunday night, the New York Times released an interesting piece cataloging the recent decline in enrollment at the University of Missouri, linking it to a series of racially motivated protests that occurred on the campus in fall 2015.
The result is a decent article, but I can’t help but think the Times is oversimplifying the issue to fit a preordained narrative. (For transparency’s sake, it should be noted that I just recently graduated from MU’s journalism program, myself.) That’s the difficulty a national outlet faces when covering a local story, especially one as controversial as this.
Regardless, the Times is correct in noting the financial trouble MU now faces, and that this strain was brought about in large part from a decline in student enrollment following the tumultuous protests.
But lower enrollment could have multiple (and concurrent) causes, including:
1. A decrease in statewide high school graduation totals (link)
2. Cuts to higher education funding from the state legislature (link)
3. A perceptual deficit, stemming from years of enrollment growth followed by backsliding (link)
4. Losing sports teams (seriously: link)
The public — and journalists, too — should be careful in implying direct causation from a mere surface-level correlation when many variables ought to be considered in tandem. Context is key.
“Inappropriate” bonus payments to university employees — totaling over $2 million — were sometimes marked as incentives but had no specific criteria, according to the Missouri state auditor in a report released Monday.
Funds were also dispersed for luxury vehicle allowances, even though a mileage reimbursement system might have been more efficient.
The University of Missouri has a long history of protests.
In 2015, a group of students under the banner of “Concerned Student 1950” camped out on the Carnahan Quadrangle to protest racism at the school’s flagship Columbia campus, confronting what they saw as an inappropriate silence from university officials.
The decrease was expected, but still presents a problem: Fewer students means less tuition revenue.
Some believe last year’s racially-charged protests, which resulted in the resignations of UM System President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, had an effect on enrollment totals. Others point to changing high school demographics and competition from colleges in neighboring states.
Even with the budget shortfall, there is still room for hope. According to the university, the newest freshman class boasts record-setting ACT scores.
Read KOMU’s coverage of the story hereand the Missourian’s coverage here.