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Mizzou Protests: Concerned Student 1950’s important fight tarnished by haste and disrespect for free press


Header photo courtesy Justin L. Stewart, Columbia Missourian via AP

Embattled University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned Monday, Nov. 9 in the wake of growing protests on campus by racial justice activist group Concerned Student 1950. The football team refused to play until Wolfe stepped down. Graduate student Jonathan Butler starved himself in a hunger strike he claimed would not end until his death or until the president gave up his job. Wolfe’s resignation came as no surprise given this magnitude of pressure.

In his resignation speech, Tim Wolfe said “This is not, I repeat, not, the way change should come about.” And it’s hard to say he’s wrong. The football team is a critical asset to the university as it’s one of Mizzou’s biggest sources of revenue. Head coach Gary Pinkel earns almost 10 times as much as the president did ($4m to Wolfe’s $459k). Then there’s the hunger strike; Tim Wolfe could have had the blood of a student on his hands if he didn’t step down. In all, Tim Wolfe’s predicament is not entirely unlike extortion: give us what we want or else.

But my assumption was that Concerned Student 1950’s goals were soundly conceived: that Tim Wolfe had said or done ­­something racist and was getting exactly the reaction he deserved. It’s hard to call their efforts political blackmail if their cause is aligned with true racial justice. Though, as I conducted my research, I found a much messier reality. Tim Wolfe was condemned not because he did something wrong, but for not doing enough.­­­­­

Tensions rose as a result of a series of racist incidents directed at black students. In April a swastika and the word “Heil” was etched into a dorm wall in charcoal. On Sept. 12, a group of young people in a truck slowed down and shouted the n-word at student body president Payton Head. On Oct. 5, a drunk, white man interrupted the play rehearsal of several black students. These acts were reprehensible, and for the University of Missouri to ignore them is a travesty.

But it’s possible the students’ concerns weren’t as ignored as Concerned Student 1950’s narrative suggests. University chancellor R. Bowen Loftin responded promptly to the Payton Head incident with a letter directed at all members of the Mizzou community affirming the university’s stance on racial discrimination: “One bias incident is too many… Our core values of respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence leave no room for bias and discrimination… acts of bias and discrimination will not be tolerated at Mizzou.” He went further from rhetoric though, and detailed specific progress the university had made toward adopting a specific student-proposed plan for the handling of bias reports and discrimination incidents. Loftin announced his stepping down as chancellor on Monday as well.

One is forced to ask the question: was removing Tim Wolfe and R. Bowen Loftin from their positions really the solution? Has Concerned Student 1950 achieved what it set out to achieve? I read their demands: their objectives are broad and extreme.

Concerned Student 1950’s first demand includes the following line: “Tim Wolfe must acknowledge his white male privilege” and, “recognize that systems of oppression exist.” This goes beyond addressing racial injustice on campus. It means stipulating that the controversial sociological theories of privilege, patriarchy and power be stipulated to as fact.

Their fifth demand asks that the University of Missouri “increase the percentage of black faculty and staff campus-wide to 10%.” Explicit racial quotas like this are unconstitutional per the landmark Regents of the University of California v. Bakke Supreme Court case that was upheld in 2013’s Fisher v. University of Texas (a case where a similar 10% diversity quota was called into question).

Almost every article I’ve read on this topic ends by situating these events under the broader Black Lives Matter and Ferguson protest umbrella. Here’s an example of such a piece of writing from a Nov. 10 New York Times article: “[The Missouri protestors] saw themselves as part of a continuum of activism linking Ferguson, other deaths at the hands of police, protestors on campuses around the country and the Black Lives Matter movement.”

But that comparison might not be fair to Black Lives Matter. Concerned Student 1950 is a world apart from the ethos of that movement. The protestors at Mizzou aren’t just calling for racial justice and awareness in America, but for their radical and extensive set of demands to be met at the expense of anyone’s career they decide needs to end.

The student group gains a tremendous rhetorical advantage by aligning itself with Black Lives Matter. If you disagree with Concerned Student 1950, you disagree with Black Lives Matter, which means you think Black Lives don’t matter, which means you’re a racist and need to lose your job. It’s a clear-cut line of logic that’s been working for Concerned Student 1950, but it’s a grossly irresponsible way to bring about change.

The liberties Concerned Student 1950 are taking with the rights of others are most obvious with a Nov. 9 video in which student reporter Tim Tai is blocked from accessing the University quad by protestors, something he has a constitutional right to do.

He was jeered at and physically pushed away. The man who shot the video was left behind by the advancing crowd and asked protestor and faculty member Melissa Click for a statement, which is when Click grabbed for his camera and then shouted to the camp of protestors, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!”

This disregard for basic freedom of the press is shocking, especially coming from an assistant professor of mass media like Melissa Click. I scanned through the selected publications on her faculty page and was not surprised to learn that most of her work concerns the representation of women, romance and gender issues in media including Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. The twittersphere has coined the phrase “social justice warrior” for liberal activists and academics like Click. Concerned Student 1950 has its roots in the same politically correct social justice movement that’s been picking up steam in recent years in academia and online. And this movement’s methods are looking more controlling and authoritarian by the day.. These are the same voices who demand “safe spaces” on campus, speech codes, trigger warnings on syllabi and the firing of faculty and administrators who don’t toe the line.

At Yale University, a similar story is playing out. Coinciding with the protests in Missouri, Professor Nicholas Christakis is under fire, with enraged students calling for his resignation as Master of Yale’s Silliman College. Cristakis’s wife Erika, another professor at Yale, responded to an e-mail that the Yale Intercultural Alliance sent to the student body encouraging them to be culturally sensitive. She questioned the practice of a university dispensing advice like this to students. I encourage you to read both e-mails in their entirety, reprinted on Reddit here. Notice how deferential to diversity concerns she is, it’s a remarkably even-handed response.

Less even handed, was the student response to her e-mail:

“Who the f**k hired you?!” one student screamed at Nicholas Christakis. “You should step down!” Of the position of mastership at Yale she says “It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not!” Let’s set aside the fact that Nicholas Christakis didn’t even write the e-mail in question: there is a reason tolive at a university besides the convenience of being close to classes. That purpose is to create a community that learns and lives together.

The freedom to express thought and share it with peers who may appreciate, critique or decry it is essential to a university’s fulfillment of its intellectual mission. The last thing a university should ever be is an intellectually “safe” space. A university must be an intellectually challenging space, where ideas are dissected and considered critically.

To be clear, racist actions unchallenged by a university also destroy the living-learning objectives of higher-education. Responding to them effectively is of the utmost importance. These issues are well heard by the public. The resignations of Tim Wolfe, R. Bowen Loftin and most recently Professor Dale E. Brigham prove that. The latter resigned this Wednesday after he refused to allow students to skip his exam.

His students were afraid after a troll on YikYak posted the following: “I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see.” The university’s Twitter account then posted “There are no credible threats to campus MUPD and campus officials are on the scene.” Prof. Brigham said:

“If you give into bullies, they win. The only way bullies are deflated is by standing up to them. If we cancel the exam, they win; if we go through with it, they lose. I know which side I am on. You make your own choice.”

The next morning, after a night of controversy, Brigham was singing a different tune:

“The exam in cancelled. Our students will be able to take the exam at an alternate date with no loss of point. No one will have to come to class today. And, I am resigning my position.”

The activists of Concerned Student 1950 are set toward a just goal, but in this case the ends do not justify the means. Bulldozing careers, demanding unconstitutional racial hiring quotas, shoving around reporters, chanting “hey hey, ho ho, reporters have got to go.”

The most distasteful of all of these trends is how some of these activists view the recent night of terror in Paris as a distraction from the “real issue” at Mizzou.

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“Both situations are equally messed up” claims @RheaBans. But 129 people died in Paris in a single night. ISIS’ attacks on Paris precipitated the deployment of 1,500 troops to secure the streets. Prejudice and racism (subtle or overt) are terrible, but no one was killed (or even injured!) at Mizzou during these events. I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from a comparison to Paris on any side. Thankfully, not all Concerned Student 1950 activists are so lacking in perspective.

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Injustice is at the center of this crisis of politics. It is an injustice for a university to fail to safeguard its black students. It is also an injustice to call for the head of every Mizzou administrator or Yale professor whose politics are undesirable. It is an injustice for a student group to physically push journalists around and violate the freedom of the press.

I’ve been told that focusing on issues like these is to have fundamentally misaligned priorities. That highlighting Concerned Student 1950’s extreme demands, that recognizing how journalist Tim Tai was bullied out of a “safe space” he had a legal right to occupy, that critiquing the oversensitivity of the social justice movement at large, that all of these things are microscopic distractions from “the real issue.” But they add up. To co-opt some social justice language, these micro-injustices damage the credibility of Concerned Student 1950, and by extension their cause itself.

I know now both from history and by way of this article’s sensitive subject matter that it’s possible I’ll receive one or many bias reports. If this article offends you, I encourage you to speak your mind in the comments. Bias reports are meant for the swastikas on the bathroom walls, the people yelling racial slurs from their truck, and for acts of discrimination. Ideas, especially unpopular ideas, should be met with ideas, not circumvented through administrative channels with the intent to put a moratorium on dialogue.

As an editor for a newspaper, I refuse to accept a new normal of shutting down conversations before they happen in favor of fostering a “safe space.” Concerned Student 1950’s concerns are rooted in real racial tension, but that is no excuse for demanding that society at large sacrifice some of its most fundamental rights like a free press and academic freedom. If you want to start a conversation, you must be willing to actually have it.




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  • O

    option checkJul 29, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    a free press often does help, if, of course, it is financed from other financial sources

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    online custom writing and editing service sector - check my essayDec 14, 2017 at 6:00 am

    I must admit that the freedom to express thought and share it with peers who may appreciate, is the most essential way to demonstrate your willingness to change something in a society!

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    JDec 10, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    To quote an article about the collapse of the American mind in the Atlantic (I think it was the Atlantic): “Trigger warnings in effect, reorient the purpose of universities, from challenging students with uncomfortable ideas to now having to mollycoddle students… The New University endeavors to institutionalize this new climate, the result of a storm where emotions are valued over important issues, where feelings are valued over facts, where intellectual muteness is preferred over fruitful and diverse rebates and discussions. Any reasonable individual and student cannot stay silent and allow this new paradigm shift to take place in the university and sweep away ‘uncomfortable ideas’ in its wake.”

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Mizzou Protests: Concerned Student 1950’s important fight tarnished by haste and disrespect for free press