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. Recent news that freshman enrollment is projected to drop 25 percent, 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; they and their families would rather take their money elsewhere. 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’s administration completely failed in this regard. The kernel of truth in the protestors’ anger is that far too few black students are meeting with success on Mizzou’s campus. This is undeniably true. African Americans make up around 12 percent of Missouri’s population, but they make up only 7 percent of Mizzou’s. They are disproportionately enrolled in remedial classes, and they drop out at higher rates than other students do. This is cause for concern, and the administration should address it.
It appears that nearly everyone involved in this debacle has lost sight of the fundamental fact that the University of Missouri receives more than $250 million each year from Missouri taxpayers. Many of these people did not attend, will never attend, and will never 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 attend Mizzou or work there does not mean that they have a claim to that woman’s money.We support Mizzou (and 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 of taxpayer cash.
Let’s hope that 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.
— Michael Q. McShane is director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri-based think tank.