Pre-blog postscript: In the wake of the tumultuous week discussed below, tonight Mizzou’s football team, which has struggled on the field this year, defeated a very good squad from Brigham Young University. Despite my strong misgivings about the actions of team members last week, tonight I am very proud of Mizzou, white, black and gold. Go Tigers!
There is weak justification at best for the uproar over supposed racism and social injustice at Mizzou (the University of Missouri’s main campus in Columbia, MO). A protest highlighted by a hunger strike by one graduate student, a boycott by football players, and the threat of a walkout by faculty in nine academic departments led to the resignation last week of the university system’s president and the Mizzou chancellor, who were accused of inadequate sensitivity to the grievances of African-American students. The broader context for the protest is a nationwide assault on free speech, especially on college campuses, with demands for “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” to protect students from words and acts that they might find offensive. This sensitivity is unbounded, and there is no limit to the censorship and fascism it brings forth in its proponents. From such sentiments are book-burners made.
It is a shame to see a great university like Mizzou reduced to groveling at the feet of petulant children who, ostensibly, have come to be educated, and often with financial support from the school. Full disclosure: Mizzou is my alma mater, so I am especially saddened by these developments. At the end of this post, I provide details on incidents that occurred at Mizzou over nearly three months leading up to the protest. Several of the incidents involved unproven and even false claims by the protestors.
Like it or not, speech outside the classroom by students at public universities has broad protection under the First Amendment. According to Eugene Volokh:
“Most clearly, students generally may not be expelled, suspended, or otherwise disciplined for what they say in student newspapers, at demonstrations, in out-of-class conversations, and the like… even if it’s offensive, wrongheaded, racist, contemptuous, anti-government, or anti-administration. Of course, it’s not protected from university criticism. The university is itself free to publicly speak to condemn student statements that university officials find to be unsound or improper.“
There are exceptions to this protection in the case of “fighting words” and “incitement”, but that kind of offense must be proven before an individual can be punished. It is absurd to demand that a university engage in unconstitutional restrictions on speech. Even if that were legal, it is unreasonable to expect a university to effectively police all speech on campus.
The Mizzou administration did take action this semester in the only case in which an individual engaging in racist speech was identified. The offender was intoxicated and disrupted an organization’s private rehearsal (see below). Whether he used “fighting words” is unknown, but a “conduct process” is still underway in his case. In addition, mandatory diversity training for students and faculty was announced by the chancellor in early October. It appears that the president, responsible for four campuses, may have delegated responsibility for managing the controversies in Columbia to the chancellor, but the failure of the president to respond directly was taken as dismissive. But in fact, Mizzou already had processes in place to address diversity issues, and the chancellor was active in communicating the administration’s concerns and support to minority students via social media. Still, the protestors assert that they were ignored and that no action was taken, among other falsehoods (see below).
In addition to an apology and removal of the University System president for “inaction”, the protestors demanded that the University meet a number of other conditions. These included a “racial awareness and inclusion curriculum throughout all campus departments” to be vetted by “students, staff, and faculty of color.” The protesters also demanded: “an increase the percentage of black faculty and staff campus-wide to 10%“; a 10-year strategic plan to improve retention of “marginalized students“; increased funding “for the purpose of hiring additional mental health professionals — particularly those of color“; and increased “funding and personnel for the social justice centers on campus for the purpose of hiring additional professionals, particularly those of color…”
The demands of the student protestors (and their faculty supporters) represent an exercise in rent seeking. They are attempting to commandeer resources at the cost of academic and educational efforts not explicitly dedicated to the theme of diversity and inclusion. If all of the demands are met, damage will be sustained by nearly all fields of study at Mizzou.
One of my frequent complaints about the Left is their inability to understand that rewards in a market economy are not zero-sum. Instead, they are earned by creating new value to be used in trade and enjoyed by others. The rent-seeking process disrupts that flow of benefits by using the power of government to extract resources from others for one’s private benefit, which then yields a negative-sum outcome for society. However, the resources sought by the Mizzou protestors must come from a public educational system for which funding is scarce. Funds provided to Mizzou by the state of Missouri have fallen significantly over the years, yet state law prohibits tuition increases for undergraduate residents exceeding the growth in the CPI. While the protestors might view their demands as reparation for past and ongoing injustices, many are already subsidized by an institution of higher learning that is strapped, and one that is already at their disposal for purposes of building their human capital. They should avail themselves of that opportunity so they can use that capital later in positive sum activities.
I also think the protests at Mizzou are symptomatic of misplaced priorities on the Left. I highly recommend this excellent essay by Jason Whitlock, an African-American sports journalist who notes that the protests at Mizzou have been given rapt attention by the Left, while the far more serious problem of black-on-black violence receives proportionately little play.
Much like other demands for “social justice”, the Mizzou protestors do not recognize the counterproductive nature of their activities and the measures they advocate. Merit will always be relied upon as as a standard by which people judge others. In a market system, it is a fairly objective standard at that. To a truly neutral observer, diversity is fine, but it is beside the point, and forced diversity often leads to suspicions of unfair play and resentment.
I find the attitude of the protestors appalling on several levels: the lies and the rent-seeking behavior, the damage they will inflict on Mizzou and their fellow students, and their rejection of good-faith efforts to address their concerns. To cap it all off, please read the childish posts shown in this article, in which the Mizzou protestors selfishly complain that the terrorist attacks in Paris have taken attention away from them, going so far as to characterize as “racist” the relative balance of coverage. Simply disgusting!
Sadly, there have been threats of violence on campus in the wake of recent developments. This week, a white teen in Rolla, Missouri, 100 miles from Columbia, was arrested and is being held without bond for making posts on social media that threatened black students at Mizzou. At the same time, hostility and threats toward campus greeks led to a lock-down at fraternities and sororities. As to racism, there is no doubt that it exists, but Mizzou is not exceptional in that regard. On campus, I believe that more racial tension is borne out of agitation from protestors than by any racist sentiments held by others. When the protestors acknowledge examples of apparently neutral, non-racist behavior by others, they insist that the racism they are fighting at Mizzou is systemic. Appeasing these complainants requires a ongoing series of reparations in the form of financial support, control over hiring, quotas and mandatory indoctrination. But here’s a clue: the social justice rap will never win the rewards and respect that arise naturally from hard work.
MIZ – ZOU!
Here are key events or claims that led up to the present brouhaha at Mizzou, along with my editorial comments:
August 14: The university announced that it would no longer offer direct subsidies to graduate assistants for the purchase of health insurance. The reason? Obamacare prohibits the kind of low-cost, “individual market” policies (per IRS interpretation) offered by many schools. Mizzou, however, promised to provide a one-time fellowship to cover the economic loss suffered by grad students in the fall semester. When students threatened a walk-out, the university reinstated the subsidies, but with the proviso that a later review would be necessary. This incident had nothing to do with racism, but it inflamed passions. An African-Americam grad student named Jonathan Butler was very upset, even though his family is quite affluent and more than capable of affording his coverage.
August – September 2015: Mizzou cancelled contracts with Planned Parenthood (PP) clinics in the wake of the release of videos showing PP officials discussing the sale of fetal “tissue”. There was pressure on the school’s administration to cut ties with PP and revoke the “refer and follow” privileges of an abortion surgeon from St. Louis. These developments were very upsetting to the campus Left, and while gender-equality activists probably thought they had a legitimate gripe, the action should not be conflated with racism. Nevertheless, Jonathan Butler listed this issue as one of his grievances, and it helped to broaden support for his cause among the student Left.
October 3: The President of the Missouri Student Association, Payton Head, claimed that several men riding in the back of a pickup truck screamed racial slurs as he walked across campus. That is awful, but unless he can identify the individuals or the truck, nothing can be done about that particular incident. It was featured in Butler’s grievance letter to the university. Presumably, the school needs to racially-sensitize anyone with access to campus.
October 6: A white student, apparently drunk, interrupts a rehearsal of the Royalty Court of the Legion of Black Collegians with racial epithets. The student was identified the next day and removed from campus by the Office of Student Conduct pending the outcome of an ongoing disciplinary procedure.
October 10: The Homecoming parade is interrupted when University System President Tim Wolfe’s car is surrounded by students from an organization called Concerned Student 1950. (1950 was the first year that black students were admitted to Mizzou.) Wolfe instructs his driver to back away from the students. With more space between the car and the protestors, the driver attempts to proceed slowly to the right around the group. In this video, Jonathan Butler can then be seen rushing toward the moving car and planting his knees into the bumper. He later accused Wolfe and his driver of running into him. As the narrator on the video states, if this were an insurance case, that sort of fraud might get Butler arrested. After a short blank segment on the video, a so-called “townie” and a few other Mizzou football fans step forward to act as a barrier between Wolfe’s car and the protesters. Ultimately, Wolfe asked police to remove the protestors from the parade route. That was characterized as evidence of neglect on Wolfe’s part. Andrew McCarthy notes the following about Jonathon Butler:
“By the way, the racism is apparently so bad at Mizzou that Mr. Butler has chosen to pursue his Master’s degree (in education) there after attending the university as an undergraduate. Now in his eighth year at Mizzou, he hopes, according to NBC News, ‘to become an advocate and ‘social entrepreneur.””
October 24, 2015: Human feces is discovered on the floor of a restroom in a university residence hall; it had been used to smear a swastika on the wall. This is now confirmed by a campus police report, though no photographs of the “poop swastika” have been produced. (Apparently, a one-year-old photo of similar graffiti was circulated by protestors). The “poopetrator” has not been identified. The act could have been inspired by anti-Semitism, white supremism, simple pranksterism (albeit viciously expressed) , or quite possibly fraudulent agitation meant to incite fears on campus. The incident really did incite fears when it was communicated on social media by Residence Halls Association President Billy Donley. The poop swastika was taken as additional evidence of a bad racial climate at Mizzou, though the affair is suspect.
November 3: Butler begins a hunger strike in an impromptu “tent city” on campus. A student boycott of classes is announced the next day. I have strong doubts about Butler’s credibility (see below) and whether the hunger strike was authentic. He did not look or act like a hungry man before he ate his first post-strike sandwich, but I could be wrong.
November 8: Black football players announce their support of Butler by refusing to practice or play until President Wolfe apologizes and resigns. The next day, Coach Gary Pinkel tweets his support for the black players, and the athletic director agrees. Many of the white players also express support for the player boycott by appearing in a group photo, but it has been reported that not all of them agreed. (I personally believe that the whole lot of the boycotters were played by Butler and his organization.) On November 13, Coach Pinkel resigns, effective December 31, but the reason is a recent diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma (non-fatal). Some things are simply more important than in-fighting at the university. Coach Pinkel’s announcement, as sad as it is, may well help to defuse the immediate tensions.
November 10: President Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resign. Butler ends his hunger strike with a sandwich as his friends urge him on with the expression “Yay N—–“, an utterance that may strike some as hypocritical. The football player boycott ends the next day.
On the evening of November 10 at about 11 p.m., Payton Head, the student body president, posted the following on Facebook:
“Students please take precaution. Stay away from windows in residence halls. The KKK has been confirmed to be cited on campus. I’m working with the MUPD, the state trooper [sic], and the National Guard.“
The news spread quickly. Head deleted the post by 11:30 and later apologized and accepted blame for spreading false information. Good for his accountability. His advice at that time was to trust only the @MUalert system, which had posted: “There is no immediate threat to campus. Please do not spread rumors…” 19 minutes before Head’s KKK post.