Columns at the University of Missouri-Columbia
Michael Q. McShane

The Book of Hosea cautions us, “They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”  Student protests on The University of Missouri’s campus, and the administration’s reaction, sowed some serious wind.  News out this week that freshman enrollment is projected to be down 25%, creating a $32 million funding deficit for the campus, is the whirlwind. If the university does not clean up its act, who knows what will blow in next.

It should be noted that this shortfall is not a result of legislators in Jefferson City cutting funding. This is prospective students freely deciding that they don’t want to spend their college years as Missouri Tigers and taking their money somewhere else. That should terrify administrators in Columbia. Will Mizzou go the way of other brands scorned by the marketplace, like Kodak, Pontiac, or Ask Jeeves?

Mizzou desperately needs to get its house in order. Most importantly, it needs an administration that realizes that protests on university campuses have been happening for decades.  In most cases, there is some element of truth to the protestors’ grievances, but it soon gets wrapped up in the narcissism and self-righteousness of 18-22 year olds.  The job of administrators is to separate the wheat from the chaff. They must address the real issues that are affecting students without losing sight of the fact that it is college kids making the demands.

Mizzou’s administration completely failed in this regard. The kernel of truth in the protestors’ anger is that far too few students of color are meeting with success on Mizzou’s campus.  This is undeniably true.  While African-Americans make up around 12% of Missouri’s population, they make up only 7% of Mizzou’s.  They are disproportionally enrolled in remedial classes, and drop out at higher rates than other students.  This is cause for concern, and something that the administration needs to address.

That entirely appropriate issue got wrapped into a series of out-there “demands,” including requiring that the former University of Missouri system president pen a handwritten note admitting his white privilege, and calling for the hiring of legions of staff across a variety of departments to provide services for minority students, but providing absolutely zero advice on how to pay for all of it. That is the chaff.

If the university does not have leadership that knows the difference between the two, or is incapable of dealing with substantive issues without being derailed by ridiculous ones, a loss of 25% of enrollment is just the start. And they shouldn’t expect the state to bail them out.

It appears that nearly everyone involved in this imbroglio has lost sight of the fundamental fact that the University of Missouri is paid for in large part by the citizens of Missouri.  Many of these people did not attend, will never attend, nor will ever have any of their children or grandchildren attend the university. University students, faculty, and administrators are asking the single mom in Cape Girardeau who is struggling to get by working two jobs to pay for their wants and desires. Just because they go to, or work at, Mizzou does not mean that they have a claim to that woman’s money.

We support Mizzou (and all of our other state universities) because they provide a service to our state; they educate our citizens and do research that improves our world.  If they’re not doing either of those things, they aren’t entitled to a dime.

Hopefully this enrollment nosedive serves as a wakeup call to the Mizzou community.  A strong flagship university can be an asset to its state and citizens.  Mizzou has a long way to go in proving that it is ready to resume that role.

About the Author

Michael McShane
Senior Fellow of Education Policy

Mike McShane is Senior Fellow of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.