Editorial: The Maneater Editorial Board supports student group’s list of administrative demands

The Maneater’s analysis on #StillConcerned’s demands against racial injustice.
Still Concerned Image | Photo courtesy of Twitter via @MIZ_ISC_2020.

There is a serious problem that exists within the University of Missouri. From its very founding, a school intended to serve as a social and intellectual compass for its students has actively chosen to whitewash the offensive and racist history that it was built on.

In a previous editorial statement published by The Maneater, we addressed our support for the demands of the 2015 student protest group, Concerned Student 1950. CS 1950 devoted itself to holding the MU administration accountable for its lack of response to a myriad of racial injustices on campus. Their efforts raised the standards MU is expected to meet for racial inclusion on campus, such as the amount of faculty of color on campus and enrollment rates. Ultimately, this resulted in the resignation of University President Tim Wolfe.

The effort to correct these racial injustices hasn’t stopped with the 2015 protests. Both racism and underrepresentation are still prevalent at the University of Missouri, as well as around the world. For this reason, student group #StillConcerned has surfaced with a new list of demands for the MU administration to address.

Given that these demands have the potential to change the social dynamic of our university for the better, The Maneater feels it’s important to give an honest review of this list.

That review includes across-the-board support for the demands. The Maneater acknowledges some demands are simple to meet while others are far more complex, and change isn’t instantaneous. But the meeting these demands would reflect a university that listens to its stakeholders, values their talents, recognizes its systemic flaws and wants every student and faculty member to feel safe.

The demands, and The Maneater’s reasons for supporting them, are as follows:

  1. Award tenure to Dr. Ashley Woodson.

MU professor Dr. Ashley Woodson is renowned for her work in social studies with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. Some of her many accomplishments include:

-Over 17 works of published writing, some of which are peer reviewed and researched.

-Winner of the 2020 AERA Social Studies Research SIG Early Career Award.

-Has spent the majority of her career informing the public about Black history and advocacy.

  • Received the William A. and Jean S. Stauffer Faculty Fellow in Education in 2017.

  • In 2018, received the College of Education Faculty Commitment to Diversity award.

We feel Dr. Woodson has put forth more than sufficient work to warrant tenure. The denial of tenure among people of color is an unfortunately common occurrence in higher education. Not only will tenure give Woodson the job security she has earned through her work, but it will also be a beneficial way for MU to increase staff and student diversity on campus. People of color are more likely to be willing to work at or attend a university that awards them for their hard work, rather than one that stands in their way of promotion.

It’s important to note student evaluations play a role in who receives tenure. For this reason, we encourage MU students who are filling out evaluations to be considerate of the effort professors put into their teaching and work.

  1. Create a student- and faculty-led racial accountability board.

If change is going to come to MU, there will need to be action from university administration. Progress doesn’t come in the form of social media posts and platitudes, so accountability will be essential to the process.

As MU’s primary stakeholders, students, faculty and staff are the ones asking for results. MU should happily request and receive feedback from those invested and oft-wronged parties. Just as students’ performance is graded and faculty receive promotions and tenure, the university should be held accountable.

The Maneater feels an effective way to achieve this would be a student- and faculty-led racial accountability board. The primary function of the board would be to identify and rectify not only shortcomings and failures of the university, but also those of their peers.

It would be naive to think that university administration is the sole source of racism and discrimination at MU. Indeed, leadership from within the student body and faculty population is necessary to foment change in every corner at once.

MU enjoys tremendous resources in its diverse, engaged and talented population of students and faculty. The university should listen to and learn from them.

  1. Reinstate Kathryn Chval as Dean of the College of Education.

Dr. Kathryn Chval was removed in July 2020 from her position as Dean of the College of Education after six years of work.

Chval’s work has been instrumental in helping underrepresented peers make advancements within their field. According to #StillConcerned, “during Chval’s tenure as Dean, the percentage of tenure-track faculty from underrepresented groups at the College of Education tripled to 34%.” She was also president of the board for the Division of Learning Disabilities.

Chval, a well-known and respected MU faculty member and professor of mathematics, was unable to explain the reason for her own dismissal, and no reason for the removal was publicly released.

In the midst of the confusion circulating this event, a group of Chval’s peers sent Chancellor Mun Choi and the MU Administration a national letter of public support, expressing their concern over Dr. Chval’s removal.

According to a full documentation of the conversation between Choi and a peer by the name of Rochelle Gutierrez, Choi’s initial response to the letter was brief: “Thank you, Professor Gutierrez. I do appreciate your support for Dr. Chval. There are many good reasons for our decision for the dismissal and the decision will not be reversed.”

In the transcript, Choi goes on to use incredibly vague language and avoids sharing why he felt this dismissal was justified. The massive rush of faculty support for Chval and disagreement with the decision suggests Choi’s reasoning is suspect. The Maneater agrees that Dr. Chval should be celebrated for her work and reinstated as Dean of the College of Education.

  1. Remove Mun Choi from all leadership positions within the UM System.

It’s no small thing to call for the removal of a university’s chancellor, especially when that individual is the president of the state’s university system, too.

However, it’s also no small thing for a leader in both of those roles to suggest faculty who disagree with administration should leave, or that progress which emerged from the 2015 protests was detrimental to MU.

That’s MU Chancellor and UM System President Mun Choi.

He has established himself as a dictatorial leader of both institutions. Choi has publicly and privately worked to restrict dissent from faculty and staff while continuing to make decisions in a fashion that concerns and harms his university’s stakeholders.

The prevalence and prominent nature of some of Choi’s administrative failures make his position untenable. It is in the best interests of both MU and the UM System to remove Choi from all leadership positions.

Though Choi publicly proclaims to be receptive to feedback and criticism, his private actions prove otherwise.

“If you are a leader, a senior leader at the university, and you don’t agree with the philosophy of the university or you don’t trust the motivations of the senior leaders, then I think you should leave,” Choi told the Columbia Daily Tribune in July.

It’s fair for a leader to want their decisions and philosophies to be well-received, but it’s the responsibility of that leader to operate in a fashion that commands respect. Dissent isn’t reflective of the person who speaks up — it shows that a leader has failed to incorporate the needs of the dissenter.

“I have not and will not make decisions based on popular consensus,” Choi wrote in a column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

While there are undoubtedly factors to its decisions that are necessarily kept from the public, MU — as a public university — should be led with the best interests of the tax- and tuition-payers who fund it in mind. If Choi wishes to reduce dissent, he would be well served to pay more attention to the “popular consensus.”

Additionally, Choi has spoken with disdain about the widespread campus protests of 2015.

“[A] few MU employees have recently appeared — perhaps unintentionally — to provide encouragement for discord and protest at the university in ways similar to what severely wounded the institution five years ago,” Choi wrote the Post-Dispatch column. “All of that progress [MU has made] … is placed at risk if we experience anew the events of 2015.”

Though there is clearly work to be done in the fight against racism and discrimination on campus, the 2015 protests were a successful and positive step for equality and justice at MU. As 2015 showed, that fight may not be “pretty” and certainly will not please university administration.

But petitions haven’t worked. The progress Choi speaks of pales in comparison to the ground yet to cover.

MU’s Chancellor and the UM System President resigned under enormous pressure in 2015. It’s time Choi is removed, too.

  1. Undo system changes combining UM System President and MU Chancellor.

Recently, the roles of UM System president and MU Chancellor have been combined, making Choi the current occupant of both positions.

Not only is this an unnecessary distribution of power with one person in charge, it’s also unfair to the other schools within the UM System. Making the leader of one specific institution the overhead leader of all others within the same system shows immense favoritism toward MU. As the university with the most money and highest enrollment, MU already has a clear advantage over the other schools, and the combining of these positions increases that. Considering Choi is based in Columbia and directly dealing with MU affairs on the daily, how would he be able to equally direct his attention to the other three schools in the system equally?

That was on the minds of leaders at the three other schools in the UM System, which publicly opposed the merger out of concern for a changed dynamic among the universities and unclear long-term motivations.

Alternatively, the needs of MU students cannot be met to the fullest extent if the chancellor’s focus is split between two different jobs, one of which involves tending to three other major universities.

The combining of these positions is inefficient, unnecessary and should be reversed.

  1. Memorialize Dr. Gus T. Ridgel on the MU campus.

Dr. Gus T. Ridgel was the very first African American man to receive a graduate degree from MU. In order to enroll in 1950, Ridgel had to file a lawsuit against the university, and eventually became one of the nine students of color admitted.

Throughout his time as a student, Ridgel faced racism and hardship regularly. He was forced to live alone in his dorm room because other students refused to live with him. He was unable to afford a second year at the university, so he completed his entire degree in two semesters — with honors.

Ridgel served as a pioneer in education and the desegregation of MU, yet few know his name. Though the atrium in Restaurants at Southwest has been named after him, its history is not widely discussed. The entire purpose of a memorial is to share that person’s story. That isn’t being done properly on MU’s campus. Frankly, an atrium in a dining hall is not enough for a person who has played such a key role in the history of this university.

After all he’s done for this university, MU should have enough respect for Dr. Gus T. Ridgel to properly memorialize him.

  1. Remove the Thomas Jefferson Statue from the MU campus.

It’s time that MU realizes the glorification of a racist, rapist and slave owner is not the way to progressively contextualize history.

In his lifetime, Thomas Jefferson enslaved over 600 human beings. One of these slaves was 14-year-old Sally Hemmings, who he raped over the span of many years and never freed. Throughout history, this situation has been romanticized by the public as a consensual relationship, rather than the cruel sexual manipulation it actually was.

Thomas Jefferson fundamentally believed that Black people were lesser than the white race. According to the Journal of Black Studies, Jefferson felt that African Americans “are inferior to whites in the endowments of both body and mind.”

For hundreds of years, Jefferson has been universally celebrated, despite the truth of his past. He’s presented as a hero in most youth classrooms, has his face on the two-dollar bill and is widely considered to be one of the more progressive and peaceful minds of his time. To top it all off, MU’s campus statue of Jefferson is considered a staple of Francis Quadrangle.

When the presence of the Jefferson statue was previously called into question, MU Administration responded that it was important to preserve the statue in order to properly contextualize the darker parts of American history. However, MU has failed to properly address Jefferson’s wrongdoings, outwardly oppose his actions or comment on its own connection to Jefferson.

The university’s extreme reluctance regarding the statue’s removal comes off as a defense of Jefferson at best. At worst, it’s an insult to every student of color who walks by its prominent, heavily secured location.

MU has more of an infatuation with Jefferson than any real historical connection. The statue is actively harmful to students and reflects the ignorance of university administration.

Take it down.

Edited by Caitlin Danborn | cdanborn@themaneater.com

The Maneater Editorial Board approves the content of all articles published under the “Editorial” label. A member of the Board is significantly involved in the #StillConcerned organization. That individual did not participate in the writing of this editorial and abstained from voting in the approval process.

As part of its commitment to highlighting organizations fighting for racial justice, the Maneater is encouraging readers to donate to Color of Change, a national civil rights group that works to strengthen the political voices of African Americans. Donate at: https://secure.actblue.com/contribute/page/support-us?refcode=coc_website_popup.

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