This appeared in print as part of the story “Best Laid Plans” In 2007, the City of Columbia’s visioning document suggested that council...
We’ll never get the whole story about what transpired during the recently concluded “times of trouble” at University of Missouri. The stormy fall semester is over and the university community is at rest. A provisional management team is in place. Barry Odom is the new football coach and the bad news about MU is beginning to fade. Now to press forward and maximize the healing process.
Time to double down our support for the university. Shame to those who say they’ll close their checkbooks, withdraw sons, daughters and other relatives from MU and abstain from attending athletic events or other functions.
What to make of all this? Opinion falls between two extremes. Some — perhaps naively — believe this was a home-grown protest by a group miffed by slights and insensitivities by university officials to racial issues. Others believe outside support and funding came from professional community organizers some might consider disciples of Saul Alinsky, Richard Cloward and Francis Fox Piven.
A string of near-Indian summer days was setting for the MU graduate student who vowed to spurn nourishment and starve himself to death until MU president Timothy M. Wolfe agreed to resign. The protest drew national media attention. Thousands of students crossing the quadrangle between classes paused long enough to observe the circus as it unfolded.
The most odious event was the shameful outburst on Monday, Nov. 9 by the decidedly un-muscled and, thankfully at this point, untenured assistant professor of communications. Her angry, hateful mug has been etched into ironic posterity on screens everywhere in a pitifully pathetic contradiction of what communication is all about in the United States of America.
But the stunt worked.
Tim Wolfe resigned — the first removal of an MU president since the Board of Curators fired Dr. Stratton D. Brooks (1870-1949) on April 5, 1930 — taking with him the chancellor of the Columbia campus, Dr. R. Bowen Loftin. At the same time, otherwise celebrated football coach Gary Pinkel — nursing his own medical issues — opted to retire with honor. The MU hierarchy buckled, cowed by the belief that the nutritionally challenged protester from Nebraska would die within a few days, perhaps ignoring the fact that Indian civil rights activist Dr. Mahatma K. Gandhi (1869-1948) survived three separate 21-day fasts in 1924, 1933 and 1943.
Who really believes a wealthy Union Pacific Railroad executive would allow his son to starve himself to death over issues involving race at the University of Missouri? Who really believes that the faster’s camp-out would have continued as colder days, laced with inclement weather — including wind, snow and ice — descended on the Carnahan Quadrangle?
How convenient it was that a truce was arranged well before Saturday, Nov. 21, the first day overnight temperatures dipped into the 20s, a sure harbinger that winter was imminent. At the same time, students were evacuating Columbia for their weeklong Thanksgiving break. The famished protester has since been recorded high-fiving his buddies at a job well done in anticipation of a sumptuous feast of Thanksgiving, snuggled with his family back home in Omaha.
What has happened in the past has been unfortunate. But it’s time to move on with a new team in formation. Most unfortunate is the belittlement-bordering-on-censorship of any open, free-spirited discussion about racial matters. When the minds of these youthful protestors become more seasoned, they may understand the pain inflicted by their attack on a great university. Perhaps they will gain a few more years of life from research conducted in a university laboratory, the university’s teaching hospital and clinics, the school of veterinary medicine, nuclear medicine and isotopes from the university’s unique research reactor, as well as hundreds of other endeavors.
We are challenged, energized and nourished by our continually refreshed crop of young people. But they are callow, often unmindful of the unintended consequences of what they wish for. Now’s the time more than ever to support the University of Missouri as we encourage our young people to work things out peacefully and through orderly negotiation. Threats turn us off. This was an attack on a great university and many of us are not very happy about it. But let the healing begin, and let’s move on.