St. Louis attorney Maurice “Marcy” Graham had been on the University of Missouri Board of Curators less than a year when student protests evolved into a hunger strike, football boycott, and leadership upheaval.
”I think we all wondered what’s going to happen?” said Graham in his Clayton, MO law office. “As it was unfolding I thought ‘what is this going to lead to?’”
In the two years since the Mizzou protests became a national news story, Graham insists that lessons have been learned and the university is doing its best to regain public trust and rehabilitate Mizzou’s image.
“I cannot imagine a situation like that happening on the Mizzou campus now. I think the culture has changed, the leadership has changed, and that would not happen on campus now,” said Graham. “We are already seeing the results of the efforts to move this university and the four campuses to the next level and it’s working.”
Whether or not University of Missouri officials like Graham are weary of answering questions about the aftermath of the 2015 campus unrest, the questions persist. “I would say in all candor that we have not done a good job in the past telling our story,” said Graham.
In July when the New York Times told Mizzou’s story, the headline read: “Long After Protests, Students Shun the University of Missouri”. The article detailed the circumstances that led to the campus protests, then highlighted a significant drop in freshmen enrollment, lost tuition, and budget cuts. For a university trying to repair its image, the NY Times article was problematic. The university took the unusual step of publishing an official response claiming key facts were left out of the story, and that on-campus success stories were ignored.
“I thought the article was a bit unfair and I’m not the only one who feels that way,” said Graham, “but sometimes articles like that get your attention and reinvigorate your efforts to make sure it’s not true. Nobody came to the university and said what have you done to address some of these issues that we’re going to write about and they would have learned a lot had they done that. They would have learned things that would’ve changed the tone of that article. There is a high degree of transparency in our leadership right now. We are publicizing what we’re doing. We’re talking about the issues we are dealing with.”
Graham thought the NY Times article should have given more weight to what he describes as a high retention rate of students already enrolled. “What has not been talked about is the retention. Retention rates are exceptional, as good as they’ve ever been.”
Graham said the university knows it has work to do to regain public trust. “Making sure that the message is credible and you’re not trying to fool people, and making sure that you take the effort to do the right things for the right reasons and that you are 100% transparent,” said Graham.
Stakeholders have the right to hold the university accountable according to Graham.
“I believe the university will seize the day. I believe we’ve got the right people in place and the commitment,” said Graham. “It is not unfair for anyone to say to the university ‘we expect you to do the job that you’re there to do’. They have the absolute right to say ‘show me’".