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Temper Campus Social Outrage With Sense Of Perspective

The University of Missouri seems to have done a few things right over the past several days.

After weeks of protests, during which high-ranking university officials showed insensitivity, at best, to the fears and anxieties of black students who grappled with displays of outright racism on campus, two of them, Timothy Wolfe, president of the University of Missouri System, and R. Bowen Loftin, chancellor of the flagship campus in Columbia, resigned.

Their departures sent a signal that the university system finally understood the urgency of the challenges facing students of color on campus.

But something else happened that was equally salutary and gratifying: Mizzou, as the Columbia campus is known, declined to accept the resignation of a white university professor whose response to the fears of black students about violent threats may have been thoughtless but was hardly malicious. When some of Dale Brigham’s black students contacted him to say they were too afraid to come to class, he urged them to attend: “If you give in to bullies, they win,” he said.

Given an epidemic of college campus shootings, not to mention racially tinged attacks such as the June massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina, church, Brigham may have underestimated his students’ distress. (On Wednesday, police arrested Connor Stottlemyre, a student at Northwest Missouri State, and Hunter Park, who attends the Missouri University of Science and Technology, on suspicion of making threats via social media.) Still, Brigham was hardly harsh or uncaring. He didn’t warrant the outrage that followed from some students, and he didn’t deserve to be run out of town on a rail.

In handling those episodes differently, university leaders demonstrated an appropriate distinction that colleges ought to try to teach — a lesson in perspective, in judgment, in balance. But those lessons are too often given short shrift in an environment of instant social media outrage.

Campuses across the country, from Stanford to Yale, have been roiled with racial tensions over the past several months. Last March, for example, a video went viral that featured University of Oklahoma fraternity members singing a racist chant. Two students were expelled, and the campus chapter of the fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, was disbanded.

That was appropriate. That sort of in-your-face racial animus should not be tolerated on any campus — or in any workplace, for that matter.

By contrast, some college campuses have struggled to contain what have been called “microaggressions,” slights and insults that are surely impolite and perhaps offensive. But in so doing, some colleges have not only limited free speech, but they have also led students to believe that they have a right to expect a world where they won’t be offended.

I’m sorry to have to bring this news, but no such world exists.

The value of a good college education lies in teaching students to consider unpopular or unconventional ideas, to choose among competing philosophies, and even to hold onto diametrically opposed ideas at the same time. In other words, a decent college education, especially the traditional liberal arts degree, teaches students to think.

You can learn to think deeply only if you are occasionally presented with novels, images and lyrics that make you uncomfortable, that move you past your comfort zone, that provoke you. You learn which of those ideas are worth keeping and which you should reject.

Students cannot get that education if speakers who are unpopular in some quarters are banned and if well-respected literary texts are abandoned. Shakespeare can seem anti-Semitic, and Mark Twain puts the N-word in the mouths of some of his characters. So do Harper Lee and countless other great writers. And literature endorses so much sexism — starting with the King James version of the Bible — that it’s hard to know where to begin. Yet, a good education requires that we wrestle with those elements that make us squirm.

As a former college professor, I know that’s not easy. I also know that complaints about feeling offended come from liberals and conservatives alike: I taught my students, many of whom hailed from conservative households, to be very cautious about “facts” gleaned from Fox News. Some weren’t happy. But isn’t that what college is for?

(Cynthia Tucker Haynes won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Students listen at a press conference at Traditions Plaza at Carnahan Quad, on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Missouri, November 9, 2015. REUTERS/The Maneater/Elizabeth Loutfi

Man Arrested After Social Media Threats Against Black Students At University Of Missouri

By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

COLUMBIA, Mo. — University of Missouri police arrested a 19-year-old man about 100 miles from campus on suspicion of posting social media threats against black students, who were deeply disturbed by anonymous messages, including one that said, “I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see.”

University police said in a Wednesday morning statement that the suspect had posted threats to the anonymous posting service Yik Yak and other social media and was not situated on or near campus “at the time of the threat.”

Another message on Yik Yak said: “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow.”

The suspect, Hunter Park, who is white and from Lake St. Louis, was arrested on suspicion of making terrorist threats and was being held on $4,500 bail, according to records from the Boone County jail.

University of Missouri police said in a statement that Park was arrested at 1:50 a.m. in Rolla, Mo., almost 100 miles southeast of Columbia. Police officials declined to release more details.

Black students were rattled by the threats, which came after a semester of mounting campus protests over racial issues that culminated with University System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announcing their resignations Monday.

Loftin tweeted that the suspect used “multiple accounts” to threaten students.

Some professors canceled classes and some black students left campus out of fear for their safety late Tuesday night as students — including Missouri student body President Payton Head — also circulated incorrect social media reports that Ku Klux Klan members had gathered on campus.

University of Missouri police Maj. Brian Weimer told the Los Angeles Times late Tuesday night that the department had received no reports of Klan members on campus.

Students were also unsettled by a man shouting and cursing late Tuesday night at the speaker’s circle next to the university library. Weimer said the man walked away with a friend.

Someone placed a threatening phone call to the campus’s black culture center earlier in the day Tuesday, but the center was not evacuated, said Weimer, who added that university police were maintaining a heavier presence on campus than usual.

Some black students were still upset Wednesday morning after a night in which students urged each other to walk home in groups and offer students walking alone an escort home.

“How Mizzou responds to the threat on Black lives today will dictate the progress of the school for the next 10+ years,” graduate student Jonathan Butler, 25, who held a seven-day hunger strike to call for the system president’s removal, wrote on Twitter.

University of Missouri officials said in a statement on its alert service that the university was still operating under its usual schedule, adding, “Safety is the university’s top priority, and we are working hard to assure that the campus remains safe while information is obtained and confirmed.”

Photo: Hunter Park is pictured in this undated booking photo provided by Boone County Sheriff’s Department in Missouri. Park, was in custody on November 11, 2015, for making online threats to shoot black students at the University of Missouri following racial protests that prompted the school’s president and chancellor to step down this week, campus police said. REUTERS/Boone County Sheriff’s Department/Handout via Reuters

University Of Missouri President Resigns Amid Race Protest

By Kevin Murphy

(Reuters) – The University of Missouri’s president said on Monday he would resign after protests over his handling of racial tensions on campus rocked the school.

The university’s black football players had refused to practice or play until President Tim Wolfe stepped down, and some teachers and students had threatened to walk out of class.

“I take full responsibility for this frustration and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred,” Wolfe said in a televised news conference announcing his resignation.

“My decision to resign comes out of love, not hate,” he added. “Please, please use this resignation to heal, not to hate.”

The football team suspended practice on Saturday and Sunday, and more than 30 black players had vowed not to return until Wolfe was fired or resigned.

In addition to the football team’s action, one student has held a weeklong hunger strike.

Protests on campus have been led by a group called ConcernedStudent1950, which says black students have endured racial slurs and believes white students benefit from favoritism in many aspects of campus life.

A majority of the 35,000 students at the university in Columbia, about 125 miles (200 km) west of St. Louis, is white.

Racial tensions in Missouri flared last year when a white policeman in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson killed an unarmed black teenager and a grand jury brought no charges against the officer. The shooting kindled nationwide soul-searching about the treatment of blacks by law enforcement.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, Katie Reilly in New York; Writing by Bill Rigby; Editing by Ben Klayman, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

Photo via Flickr