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.

Washington Society hosts public dialogue on ethics

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Overview

The Washington Society held a public dialogue on the origins of morality in the Kinder Institute on the University of Missouri campus Monday afternoon. The dialogue, titled “Where Does Morality Come From?” was led by political science Professors Justin Dyer and Jonathan Krieckhaus. Dyer is director of the Kinder Institute.

Krieckhaus kicked off the event by going through a numbered list of points to make about morality in general (copy below).

First, Krieckhaus made the point that it is not prima facie evident that morality does in fact exist.

Knowing this, his second point listed four “existential stances” one can take toward morality: Amorality, logic, deism and naturalism.

The professor’s third point was to explain the increasing importance of this final type, naturalism. Our country is growing less religious with each successive generation, he said, and so, if we are to preserve and develop a shared sense of moral norms, we must turn to non-deist moral reasoning.

Krieckhaus’ fourth point explored the pros and cons of such a form of moral reasoning, mentioning that it is potentially more useful, but also more difficult to develop.

Finally, the last point centered on the Golden Rule. Does the notion of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you fulfill the requirements of a shared naturalist morality in the way we would wish? Not quite, explained the professor, listing a few fundamental disagreements we would still have, such as matters of sexual engagement and abortion rights. However, the Golden Rule is still important, as it is useful in guiding our morality in many other cases.

After Krieckhaus’ lecture, there was a similar introduction from Dyer, a moment of dialogue between the professors and then a period where audience members could ask questions.doc-oct-11-2016-9-02-am

My Analysis

I found Krieckhaus’ talk to be the most interesting of all the segments, specifically his assertion of the importance of non-deist moral reasoning.

It was here that he began to reference Plato. Krieckhaus, who believes there is a discoverable logical foundation upon which we can build our shared morality, nevertheless explored what a world would be like if that was not the case. In such a world, we may need to develop a “noble myth,” he said, echoing the notion of Plato’s noble lie. Even if a non-deist morality doesn’t exist, it is best for society that we create the illusion that one does.

I completely agree with this assertion. Society needs some moral norms in order to function properly. Religion has traditionally been the easiest manner of communicating these norms, but as the developed world continues its trajectory away from deism, it is imperative we find a sturdier foundation upon which to build a new moral system.

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.

MU Improv hosts CoMotion 2016

This April, MU Improv hosted its fourth annual CoMotion improv festival. During the two-night event, teams from across the Midwest traveled to Columbia to perform.

Watch the Missourian’s video coverage of the event here.