As first reported on by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the University of Missouri has recently issued new campus guidelines regarding free speech on their campus.
University of Missouri: The Troubled Past
For those who may have forgotten, during the last academic year, the University of Missouri received national criticism when pervasive student protests regarding race relations rocked the campus. All of the drama revealed how intolerant of free speech members of the university’s community, including administrators, were. They were willing to involve police officers to handle “hurtful” speech.
Unfortunately for Mizzou, the protests during the fall of 2015 were only the start of their troubles. According to local reports, the school had to close down a total of seven residential halls to date.
Liz McCune, a spokeswoman from the university, said that the school was “taking these actions to make sure [they] have the flexibility necessary whether the numbers [of enrolled students] are low or high.” However, the latest schools records reveal that freshman enrollment for the 2016-17 academic year dropped from years past by roughly 24%, and there has also been noticeable decline in graduate school applicants for the university.
This declining enrollment, mixed with lower state support, has led to the University of Missouri finding itself compelled to engage in $8.5 million of system level budget cuts. As a result of the larger goal of generating “$101 million in savings to meet budget deficits,” local reports project that, specifically at the University of Missouri, “358.2 full time jobs, with 195.8 currently occupied” will vanish.
Whether there is a direct link between the school’s plummeting enrollment numbers and the events during the fall of 2015 is left up to interpretation. However, one thing is quite clear. Missouri is in need of major changes beyond simple reallocation and slashing of funds.
University of Missouri: A More Promising Future
As stated above, the University of Missouri has redeveloped some of its policies to reflect a greater defense of their students’ free speech rights. A portion of the university’s website has been explicitly dedicated to explaining the school’s views on the importance of an open exchange of ideas existing on their campus.
“The University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. Individual members of the University community, not the University as an institution, should make their own moral judgments about the content of constitutionally protected speech, and should express these judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas they oppose.”
The university additionally published a set of guiding principles and policies regarding free expression, which will enable students to understand their rights on campus and hold administrators accountable when those rights are violated.
As FIRE points out, the university still maintains some uncomfortably vague expression regulating codes. But it’s move towards more speech promoting policies is inspiring for both the university’s future and, (hopefully), for the futures of other institutions of higher education as well.