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.

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What is the Missouri Plan?

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A view of the south side of the Missouri Capitol building in Jefferson City [Zachary Reger]
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.

Continue reading “What is the Missouri Plan?”

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”

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”

Columbia 4.22.16

New circuit judge appointed for Boone and Callaway counties

Gov. Jay Nixon announced Friday that he will appoint Jeff Harris, a Columbia lawyer, as the new circuit judge for Boone and Callaway counties.

Harris has a long history of legal and public service, both in Columbia and, earlier, in Kansas City. He will replace outgoing circuit judge Gary Oxenhandler.

Read KOMU’s coverage of the story here.

Columbia teachers press for higher pay

The Columbia Board of Education is set to meet with local teachers Friday to negotiate potential pay increases. The discussion will take place during a meeting at 5 p.m.

Read KOMU’s coverage of the story here.

Malfunctioning motor triggers fire at Lincoln University

Dawson Hall – tallest building on Lincoln University’s Jefferson City campus – caught fire Friday. After evacuation and a brief investigation, a malfunctioning air conditioning motor was found to blame.

Read KOMU’s coverage of the story here.

Committee considers university oversight

On Monday afternoon, Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, presented Senate Concurrent Resolution 66 before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability.

If passed, the resolution would establish a new oversight commission for the University of Missouri System.

Read the Missourian’s coverage of the public hearing here.