In a letter this week to faculty and staff, Mun Choi, the University of Missouri system president, shared the grim news: the university is indeed shrinking. He anticipates, in fact, an overall system budget cut of 8 to 12 percent in fiscal year 2018 and beyond. For fiscal year 2017, the university is looking at a $37 million shortfall from the state.
Although the letter is rational and restrained, Mun Choi fails to address head-on one major reason for the Mizzou’s problems. He prefers a sideswipe, writing, “We continue to address declines in enrollment, a continuing trend facing universities around the country.” That statement is half right, half wrong, and altogether too light on self-examination. Consider, for instance, the following two headlines, the first from the Daily Kansan:
“KU Freshman Class grows for fifth straight year, sets record for academic talent.”
The second one, this week, from the Columbia Missourian:
“MU Residential Life to close three more residence halls.”
Although freshman enrollment for the 2017-18 academic year isn’t available yet, the Residential Life people at Mizzou do not seem optimistic. As the article observes, “Freshman enrollment for the 2016-17 academic year was substantially lower than previous years. It dropped by 1,470 students, or 24 percent, bringing the total number to 4,738.”
This dramatic falling off was not part of some larger trend. It was a problem unique to MU. As the reader may recall, a black student protest on the Columbia campus in the fall of 2015 resulted in a threatened play stoppage by the football team, the resignation of both the MU system president and the MU-Columbia chancellor, and widespread condemnation of the nonsense by Missouri alumni and citizens.
The alleged incidents that triggered the revolt, most notably the notorious “poop swastika,” were embarrassingly trivial even if true, but there has been nothing trivial or illusionary about the backlash by parents, alumni, and state legislators.
In truth, as the Sentinel has documented, student politics at KU are even sillier than they are at MU, but the KU football team has never walked off in solidarity and, if they did, no one would much notice.