For an institution of higher learning, the University of Missouri seems to have a really hard time absorbing lessons about transparency and communication.
On Monday, more than 100 students marched through the Columbia campus in protest of an administrative decision they heard about via social media.
Students heard — incorrectly, as it turns out — that MU was dismantling the university’s entire Department of Social Justice, which is made up of the Multicultural Center, the Women’s Center, the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, the Gaines Oldham Black Culture Center and the LGBTQ Resource Center. Those are all key safe spaces for marginalized students on that campus.
That’s not what’s happening, according to officials, but how would students know that, since planned changes to the department were not explained to them? In the absence of the solid information that the school should have provided, rumors quickly exploded on social media that Mizzou was cutting its social justice centers and firing the staff.
Of course students were outraged. If the university is diminishing the role of these departments in any way, students have every right to be angry.
University officials told The Star Editorial Board that what students are hearing about the Department of Social Justice being diminished is not the truth.
“Those centers are not going anywhere,” said Christian Basi, university spokesperson. “We are restructuring the department, adding staff, adding budget, adding resources. If anything is happening, we are making them stronger.”
So why not tell your students, faculty and staff what’s going on from the jump? Get on social media, at #MUdefundsDiversity, and talk to them.
Or do it old school and send out a campuswide notice to tell them what you are telling us now that protest has erupted on campus.
For that matter, University System President and MU Chancellor Mun Choi could just walk out of his office in Jesse Hall and talk to students protesting right outside the door. There is no excuse for not communicating directly.
Tell your campus community that you are restructuring the department, that you are eliminating the position of department coordinators and creating new assistant director positions.
Tell them the staff will have to reapply for the new positions because you can’t just reclassify them.
Tell them you can’t promise that no jobs will be lost. And if it’s true, say that you plan to add staff. Be transparent about how much more money you are committing to the department and what new resources you’re adding.
Chancellor Mun Choi blocking students on Twitter
As a public institution, the University of Missouri owes its students an explanation anytime it’s cutting or even changing services that impact the experience students pay for on that campus.
For a university that is known for communication education and its School of Journalism, MU sure seems to repeatedly do a poor job communicating with its campus community.
MU, have you forgotten about the 2015 student protests that forced the resignations of your chancellor and system president? Have you forgotten that students were angry about systemic racism on the campus, and about the lack of transparency and silence from campus leaders?
It doesn’t help that when students and faculty take to Twitter to complain about an administrative decision, whether they’ve got it right or wrong, the chancellor’s Twitter account is locked, so again they can’t communicate with him there.
In September, Choi blocked students who criticized Choi’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and blamed him for an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the community.
He only unblocked the account after a lawyer warned the university that he would sue if Choi didn’t do so.
Look, MU, you should have gotten the message by now. Students want to know what’s happening on their campus. They are going to share information on social media, and won’t hesitate to protest decisions they think are detrimental.
If you are not transparent, not communicating, what do you expect?
Last June, Choi said in a campuswide notice that “Mizzou continues to be committed to creating an inclusive community where everyone can live, learn and work in an environment that supports and celebrates each individual.”
He said that after a stream of comments under the hashtag #BlackatMizzou on Twitter and Instagram came from students and alums talking about experiencing hateful incidents of racism, sexism and other discrimination on the campus. The centers are their safe space, students said. They are the place they turn to when they feel isolated, threatened or discriminated against. Some said the centers were the only thing that kept them from leaving the university altogether.
Don’t leave students guessing about whether you’re keeping that promise.