When Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin assumed office on Feb. 1, 2014, MU’s campus climate was temperate, if not benign.
Michael Brown was still alive and race relations had not yet grasped this campus’ attention. It would be two months before production started on “American Sniper”, the screening of which on this campus has been the subject of recent controversy here and elsewhere. Faculty and administrators still considered a diversity course requirement to be unrealistic; something that a senior Faculty Councilwoman said just “wouldn’t happen”.
The temperature has risen. Things are different now.
Loftin met with reporters in a conference room in the Reynolds Alumni Center on Wednesday to discuss ongoing challenges on campus, including race relations, faculty turnover.
Just the night before, Loftin and MU administrators were criticized during a race relations forum by students who called their response too reactive and not proactive enough.
Loftin acknowledged the sense of anxiety and “a great deal of hurt” on this campus, but responded to student concerns about reactivity by saying it is sometimes necessary.
“In a sense you can’t help that,” he said. “When specific issues arise you have to deal with them, you have to react to them. We continue to do that on a regular basis.”
He said while some proactive measure are underway, he also noted that some may take longer than others.
Specifically, he noted the “constructive” conversations about potential changes to curriculum that could aid diversity education at the university.
“We talked more than once about the issue of curricular work here on the campus to provide mechanisms to bring us all to a better place in terms of the students as well as the faculty,” Loftin said. “Those things, I believe, are proactive.”
He said that most of the crowd’s questions Tuesday night about the potential implementation of a diversity education course were directed at Professor Angela Speck, chairwoman of Faculty Council’s Diversity Enhancement Committee, and that she was “pleased to learn that there were so many willing to work with her.”
Speck’s newfound optimism comes in stark contrast to her comments in January, in which she called the establishment of a diversity education course impossible.
A controversial film
Loftin, who said he wasn’t aware of the planned showing of American Sniper until a student recently submitted a letter-to-the-editor to The Maneater on March 3, deferred to Missouri Students Association’s leadership in handling student concern.
“I have complete faith in that leadership team to make good decisions on behalf of our student body here,” Loftin said. “They work very hard to seek student input about whether or not the film should be shown and if it was shown, how to make that a useful educational experience.”
As soon as he became aware of the threats and overtly racist comments on social media, Loftin said, he began two parallel processes: An investigation — led by Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs — of potential violation of MU’s Standard of Conduct by students and an investigation led by the MU Police Department to find violations of state law. He said potential violation of state statutes may be classified as felonies.
Loftin also discussed faculty turnover, which became a pressing issue since 111 tenure-track faculty opted to retire at the end of this academic year. He said that in a normal year, 11 or 12 tenured faculty would retire, so having 10 times that number retire provides an “exciting and rare” opportunity for the university.
“This is a chance to renew our faculty, to truly bring extraordinary faculty to the university that will not simply replace those who are here but compliment other senior hires we’re making right now,” Loftin said. “We can adapt this university fully to this point in time in the future in terms of the opportunities we have in formal education and research.
Loftin said that his intention is to use funds freed up by retirees to secure new tenure earning faculty. He said there could be a transitionary period, during which administration would hire non-tenure faculty in order to fill the gap for students.
“You don’t hire the best faculty in one day, one month even one year,” Loftin said. “We’ll have to go through a process, already underway in some cases, to secure the right faculty.”
The administration hopes to hire more than 111 new faculty within two years, he said.
He said that while the ideal situation would have the number of tenure-track faculty at the university increase, he can’t presuppose what the best hires would be for deans of specific departments or the provost.