Mizzou president claims protests, censure were predictable

The University of Missouri system’s president is optimistic for the school’s future despite declining enrollment and a campus climate that promotes racial animosity and professional censure, insisting that today's college students are not "coddled."

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, interim president Michael Middleton spoke to the National Press Association Tuesday about a wide range of topics, including the role Missouri’s history as a slave state played in the November protests and the firing of a professor who was caught on camera calling for “muscle” to help evict student journalists covering the public demonstrations.

[RELATED: Mizzou curators vote to fire Melissa Click]

Shaken by a 23 percent drop in enrollment and large budget cuts, the future of Mizzou seems bleak for many.

[RELATED: Mizzou short on cash, desperate for students after semester of protests]

Middleton acknowledged this in his remarks, but made his optimism clear regarding the future of Mizzou, saying, “I am optimistic. We have been around 177 years. We have been through problems, ups and downs. We generally come back stronger.”

Middleton also acknowledged parents’ legitimate fears of sending their children to a campus they view as “violent and in total disarray,” assuring them that despite the recent disturbances on campus, “we have got some very, very progressive people—very, very supportive of the students and supportive of what happened, and eager to make the changes.”

More importantly, Middleton called those who disagreed with the protests “just bitter, angry people over the fact that this happened in the first place.”

Middleton was also asked if students today are coddled, to which he gave a personal response centered around an anecdote about growing up in Mississippi in the 50’s and 60’s. He explained that he learned a certain resilience through his upbringing, and that today’s college students haven’t necessarily had to learn that same resilience.

“You may call that coddled,” he submitted, but “I don’t think I would characterize it that way.”

Speaking on the differing opinions that ignited the protests last fall, Middleton observed that “you have got a variety of positions in Missouri, as I think Missouri has had since the Civil War, when brothers were fighting brothers. It’s a fundamental flaw in this country that grows out of declaring all people equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights, but at the same time, black people were held in bondage”

He concluded the thought by suggesting that “what you are seeing at Missouri and college campuses across the country is a reflection of that tension, that imperfection in our union. And we need to find a solution. What better place to do that than a university?”

The topic of Melissa Click and the censure placed on Mizzou by the AAUP over her firing also came up, prompting Middleton to defend the decision to terminate her for infringing on a student’s First Amendment rights. The AAUP, conversely, maintains that Click’s firing signifies a threat to academic freedom on Mizzou’s campus.

[RELATED: AAUP condemns lack of academic freedom at Mizzou]

“I thought Dr. Click lost control in a very heated situation,” Middleton opined, adding that her termination had nothing to do with academic freedom. “The AAUP couched their sanctions in those terms … but they have a job to do themselves, and they did it. We will have to live with it and work to get off this censure list as soon as possible.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ChrisNuelle