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.
Missouri’s most notable claim-to-fame in modern legal philosophy is often overlooked.
The state’s constitutionally guaranteed system of merit-based judicial selection — the “Missouri Plan,” as it’s often called — marked a seismic shift in the process of court appointment, one that swept the nation in a grand revision of how we populate many of our appellate and high courts.
By forgoing popular alternatives of direct election and nomination-confirmation of state judges, Missouri ushered in a new “nonpartisan” era of judicial selection.
After the Plan’s initial adoption in the mid-1900s, dozens of states followed, creating merit-based systems of their own. Newly democratic nations across Europe and South America drew inspiration from the Plan in writing their own constitutions, as did even a few established democracies during historic reformation votes.
And Missouri started it all.
What follows is a brief overview of the philosophy and origins of the Missouri Plan, a lightly edited excerpt taken from my undergraduate thesis work at the University of Missouri.
After a Democratic filibuster of Neil Gorsuch, Congressional Republicans have exercised the “nuclear option,” dismantling the requirement of a 60-vote cloture movement before voting on Supreme Court nominees. Gorsuch can be confirmed with a mere 51 supporting senators, an up-or-down vote scheduled for Friday.
“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.