RETRIBUTION: Missouri Republicans to Decrease Mizzou's Budget As Punishment for Peaceful Protests
State lawmakers have found a new way to punish University of Missouri students who protested campus racism on the Columbia campus last fall: all four of the university’s campuses may not be included in a statewide budget increase for state schools.
Earlier this month, the House Committee for Higher Education Appropriations chose to raise funding for state schools by 2 percent but excluded the University of Missouri’s four campuses from the increase. Rep. Donna Lichtenegger (R-Jackson) proposed the 2 percent plan a decrease from Gov. Jay Nixon’s plan, which would have given schools a 6 percent increase. Under Gov. Nixon’s proposed $55.8 million plan, which the committee took down to $9.9 million, the University of Missouri would have received an additional $26.8 million in funding.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the university’s budget as proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage) was announced. The budget would take an $8 million cut, including revoking the salary of Melissa Click, an assistant mass media professor and member of Mizzou’s Department of Communication who angered lawmakers with her involvement in the protests. Other salary cuts include that of Mitchell McKinney, Chairman of the Communications Department, and Dean of Arts and Science Michael O’Brien. This collectively cuts roughly $400,000; the remaining $7.7 million will be cut from system administration which includes the Board of Curators.
Freezing Mizzou out of the increase is meant to target university officials and the Board of Curators who did not take enough action against the student protesters.
Protests took place at the university last fall when students began speaking out against instances of racism on campus. Concerned Student 1950 a student group named for the first year the university began admitting Black students organized the protests. Actions taken by students included walkouts, social media postings and support from the football team, which threatened a boycott of all games until the university president, Tim Wolfe, resigned. Under mounting pressure, Wolfe ultimately left his position.
Lichtenegger said the protests made the university a “laughingstock.”
“It would be one thing if it just made state news,” she said, “but this is national. I’m trying to make people understand that we are not a laughingstock.”
The only rep to oppose cutting the university from the budget increase, Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia), said that administration and board members will not be the ones slighted by the choice to exclude Mizzou it will be the students.
“It’s going to be felt by students by way of higher fees and reduced educational opportunities,” he said.
The goal of the budget increase had been to prevent tuition from increasing for the 2016-2017 school year. By excluding Mizzou, students on all four campuses will likely see a hike in tuition rates.
“The cut that they made affects UMKC, UMSL and S&T as well,” Webber said. “There are tens of thousands of students that are trying to get an education and the Republican supermajority is making it more difficult for that to happen.”
Lawmakers were also angered by Click’s actions and the board’s response of inaction. In an attempt to prevent a student journalist from photographing the protests, Click tried to grab his camera, saying to other activists, “I need some muscle over here!”
The school’s journalism department cut all ties with Click and, according to Lichtenegger, “Had the chair of mass communications done the same thing, we wouldn’t be in this mess right now.”
Since the protests, the committee has advocated for Click, who was suspended with pay by the university, to be fired. Earlier this month, Concerned Student 1950 members interrupted a Board of Curators meeting to show their support for Click. The board’s chairwoman tried unsuccessfully to quell the protests. Lichtenegger called the board’s inaction “the last stroke for me” and said the students’ decision to protest there was unacceptable.
“That doesn’t show me that they have students on their campus that are respectful and that know why they’re supposed to be there. They are there to learn, not to protest all day long,” she said. “I thought we learned that lesson in the ’60s. Obviously we haven’t.”
But students were not the only ones advocating for Click, who has since apologized for her actions during the protests and said she feels “embarrassed” by her behavior. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Click’s suspension without a prior hearing denies her of her full rights. In a letter marked Feb. 2, the group sent a letter to Mizzou’s Interim Chancellor Dr. Hank Foley, which read in part:
“No threat of immediate harm has been suggested in Professor Click’s case. In fact, you are quoted in the Kansas City Star on January 25, 2016, as stating, ‘We are confident she does not pose any danger to any student.’ Moreover, it seems clear that, in not affording her a hearing prior to placing her under suspension, she has been denied the safeguards of academic due process called for under the aforementioned standards.”
Galen Suppes, president of the AAUP’s Mizzou chapter, said to the Huffington Post, “For the legislature to expect the University to by-pass its own procedures is wrong on many levels.”
On Monday the university’s budget as proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage) was announced. The budget would take an $8 million cut, including revoking Click’s salary. Other salary cuts include that of Mitchell McKinney, who chairs the university’s communications department, and Dean of Arts and Science Michael O’Brien. This collectively cuts roughly $400,000; the remaining $7.7 million will be cut from system administration which includes the Board of Curators.
This is not the first time the state sought out punishment for the unrest last fall. In December, state lawmakers drafted a bill to revoke the scholarship of “any college athlete who calls, incites, supports, or participates in any strike or concerted refusal to play a scheduled game,” according to the proposed bill. However, the bill never went into law because, as stated in the school’s student-athlete handbook (which the rep who proposed the bill admitted he hadn’t read), the school’s athletic department does not operate on state funds.
The tentative budget must now go through the House budget committee then the entire House before reaching the Senate, and more changes can still be made to it before it goes to the Senate.