Taking a closer look at the New York Times’ Missouri story

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Jesse Hall at the University of Missouri [Zachary Reger]
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.

UM System audit reveals millions in ‘inappropriate’ payments

“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.

Read the full story from the Columbia Missourian, KOMU 8 News and the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Revisiting Columbia’s shantytown legacy

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.

Jonathan Butler, a graduate student and leader of the movement, staged a week-long hunger strike. This triggered support from the football team, which began a boycott of all sports-related activity to undergird Butler’s effort.

The national news media caught the story. Soon, the entire country had its eyes on MU.

Continue reading “Revisiting Columbia’s shantytown legacy”

UM System gets new president

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Dr. Mun Y. Choi will serve as the 24th president of the four-campus University of Missouri System, officially stepping into the role and replacing Interim President Mike Middleton next spring.

The UM Board of Curators announced their new hire during a news conference in Jefferson City Wednesday morning. During the event, Choi spoke to the press and answered questions from reporters.

Choi will replace former system president Tim Wolfe, whose resignation was triggered by racially-charged protests at the university system’s flagship campus in Columbia last fall. The protests, which earned national media attention, also resulted in the resignation of R. Bowen Loftin, the chancellor heading the main campus.

The UM Board of Curators released a statement Monday signaling the end of their nearly year-long search for a new president. At the time, Choi was speculated as the pick, but was not officially confirmed until days later.

 

MU enrollment drops

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Student enrollment at the University of Missouri has declined by over 2,000, according to preliminary totals the school released Monday.

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 here and the Missourian’s coverage here.

REPORT: Gay Republican ponders party’s push for religious liberty legislation

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A view of the south side of the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City (Zachary Reger)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Information for this story was gathered from interviews conducted throughout the Missouri General Assembly’s 2016 legislative session, which ran from January to mid-May.


JEFFERSON CITY — Zachary Wyatt-Gomez, 31, a former Missouri representative and openly gay Republican, is an ideological harbinger—a man whose own life story mirrors the morphing philosophy of his seemingly fractured party.

But Wyatt’s experience also highlights a growing divide within the GOP, an uneasy coalition straining to establish some form of consensus between its business-minded and socially conservative wings.

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Zachary Wyatt-Gomez

It’s a divide that served as tinder for this spring’s religious liberty showdown in the Missouri General Assembly.

Senate Joint Resolution 39, a Republican-sponsored religious liberty constitutional amendment, was first presented as a way to protect the socially conservative beliefs and practices of ordinary citizens from overbearing government oversight.

Opponents argued the resolution would legalize discrimination.

Specifically, SJR 39 would have allowed some wedding-related businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples based on a “sincere religious belief.”

After passing the state Senate, the resolution was defeated in a House committee on April 27.

SJR 39 needed a simple majority to pass the committee and continue its journey to the House floor. The vote was 6-6.

Continue reading “REPORT: Gay Republican ponders party’s push for religious liberty legislation”

UM System cuts finalized

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon approved a final version of the state’s higher education budget Wednesday.

Under the budget, funding to the University of Missouri System will be cut by $3.8 million, although this will be offset by a statewide increase in performance-based funds.

The $3.8 million cut marks a compromise between the House and Senate, who pushed for larger and smaller cuts, respectively.

Read the Missourian’s coverage of the 2017 higher education appropriation here.