Greater Transparency Would Be Good for Mizzou
Tensions are still simmering following this fall’s student (and faculty) protests at the University of Missouri. Without venturing into the debate on the merits of the protestors’ claims, it is clear that the leadership lost the run of the school. Controversy is going to be a part of any university; young, idealistic students (and the professors who help incubate that idealism) will always clash with administrators. Important issues will be debated, and protests will be held. ‘Twas ever thus.
Universities have to be able to weather these events, though; otherwise, nothing will ever get done. It’s clear that the recent turmoil was more than the administration could overcome. Much ink was spilled in the post-mortem of the Wolf presidency, but I prefer to look to the future rather than dwelling on the past. I’m more interested in what we can do to improve Mizzou as the university moves forward.
That’s why I was heartened to see a legislative effort to promote greater transparency in the university system. Taxpayers and citizens have a vested interest in the university, and they can’t know if their hard-earned dollars are going to productive ends if they don’t know how those dollars are being spent. Louis Brandeis had it right—sunlight is the best disinfectant—and illuminating the inner workings of the university system can empower citizens to influence how the system is run.
The reform efforts have two central planks (available here and here). The first calls for the Missouri state auditor to complete a comprehensive audit of the university every year. The people of Missouri (many of whom will never have a child set foot on Mizzou’s campus) fund the university system to the tune of half a billion dollars every year. Is it going to fund research on Twilight fans, or is it being used to put more microscopes in the chemistry lab? Right now, we don’t know, and we should.
The second reform requires all instructors to put their syllabi and course reading lists online. Now, it’s not as if these documents are top secret today, but in the past when citizens and researchers have asked for access to syllabi to find out what students were being taught, Missouri universities have stonewalled them. Again, taxpayers have a right to know what they are paying for, and they should not have to pull teeth to find out what is actually being taught in the university’s classrooms.
The University of Missouri system is an important part of the fabric of our state. Not only does it instruct tens of thousands of our students every year, but it also serves as the locus of important research, debate, and discussion. A thriving Mizzou is good for Missouri, and greater transparency will strengthen the university and give Missouri citizens greater confidence that their tax dollars are going to fund important work.