May 21, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

“Mizzou” Has Become Shorthand For “Self-Destructive University”

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Board members at the University of Missouri, affectionately known as “Mizzou,” should consider the following headline from The College Fix and remind themselves that actions have consequences that outlive the students and staff responsible.

The headline refers to Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University: “Canada’s Mizzou? Enrollment plunging at university that investigated gender-neutral pronoun debate.”

Worse, this headline phrase, “Canada’s Mizzou,” was picked up by at least a dozen other publications. 

Calling for “muscle” did not prove to be a useful marketing strategy at Mizzou.

The controversy at Laurier began in November 2017 when teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, a self-described leftist, showed her freshman class a short video clip of a debate featuring University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson. The debate aired on a public broadcasting show and dealt with the use of gendered pronouns. Peterson has famously rejected the butchering of the language to accommodate transgender sensitivities.

After the class, Shepherd called her boyfriend to say she thought the class went well and that the students were engaged. At the time she was unaware that one student contacted the Rainbow Centre, the campus LGBTQ headquarters, to complain.

A day later, Shepherd was called into a meeting by her supervisor, the program head, and a “diversity” officer. Sensing trouble, she discreetly recorded the conversation. When Shepherd explained that she did not take sides in the debate, her supervisor complained that not taking sides against Peterson was “like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler.”

The supervisor told her she had created an unsafe learning environment, and Shepherd began to cry. “I’m sorry I’m crying,” she said. “I’m stressed out because this to me is so wrong, so wrong.”

Feeling unjustly chastised, Shepherd shared her experience and her audio with the media. Under pressure, the president of the university launched an investigation and six weeks later apologized to Shepherd. “It is clear that she was involved in no wrongdoing,” said the president.

The drama surrounding the event, much like the drama surrounding the protests on the University of Missouri campus in 2015, soured many potential students on Laurier.

“Failing to stand for truth has consequences,” tweeted one of the few professors who supported Shepherd. “WLU admission confirmations are down 15.2%. Worst performance in province.  First place choices down 12.5%–also worst in province. Overall province-wide confirmations are flat.”

For the College Fix there was one obvious point of comparison. “Made infamous by a professor who asked for ‘some muscle’ to remove a journalist who was covering its fall 2015 racial protests, Mizzou had to shutter several dorms a year ago and laid off 30 recently to help plug a $49 million hole.”

One hopes that Mizzou has learned its lesson, but too many universities, even in the heart of the nation, treat free speech as something not to be encouraged, but to be endured.

 

 

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