- ‘You have a PR nightmare on your hands’
- Grandma ‘I will pull every dime before my granddaughter sets foot on your campus’
- ‘A national disgrace – disgusting’
- ‘the mob’s threats … totalitarian to insane’
- Student: ‘racism smaller than it is made out to be’
- Student: ‘As an African American, I am embarrassed by my fellow students’
- ‘I pledge NOT to contribute to your fund’
- Donations to Athletic Department plunged 72%
- Overall donations down
- Freshman student enrollment down a quarter
Mizzou’s vice chancellor for marketing and communications, Ellen De Graffenreid, received a disheartening email last fall at the pinnacle of the crisis on campus. A disgruntled parent wrote to the university’s Board of Curators, describing how her son, a sophomore, considered transferring out, while their two high-school-aged children “have all but eliminated Mizzou from their college list.”
Someone had forwarded the note to the university’s Department of Marketing and Communications, adding: “I’m sure you already know this but you have a PR nightmare on your hands.” De Graffenreid, in turn, forwarded it to the college’s leadership, adding the letter from a parent was “pretty representative of the middle of the road people we are losing.”
New correspondence reviewed by Heat Street and National Review depicts the cataclysmic backlash against the University of Missouri as its administrators grappled with demands from rowdy protestors, a hunger-striking grad student, and a boycotting football team. The protests ultimately toppled both the president and the chancellor.
In one instance, a retired professor wrote a prescient note to top university officials, cautioning that “serious backlash could result” and that “students making demands, protests, disrupting events or that kind of thing won’t sell well outstate.”
His prediction proved spot-on. The 7,400 pages of emails, reviewed exclusively by these two publications, reveal how Mizzou overwhelmingly lost the support of longtime sports fans, donors, and alumni. Parents and grandparents wrote in from around the country declaring that their family members wouldn’t be attending Mizzou after the highly publicized controversy. Some current students talked about leaving.
This passionate backlash doesn’t appear to have been a bluff. Already, freshman enrollment is down 25%, leaving a $32 million funding gap and forcing the closure of four dorms. The month after the protests, donations to the athletic department were a mere $191,000—down 72% over the same period a year earlier. Overall fundraising also took a big hit.
Here’s the timeline of what happened on campus and the avalanche of negative feedback that followed—including a sampling of the messages Mizzou leadership received.
Oct. 5: A drunk white male interrupts a homecoming rehearsal for the Legion of Black Collegians, calling them the n-word.
Oct. 6: A black student writes to Mizzou’s chancellor, Bowen Loftin, describing how someone called him the n-word during his freshman year. Nonetheless, he writes: “I have one thing to say to you, this is not a racist school. …. One man’s ignorance should not be linked to that of an entire race. And I’m quite tired of the notion being made that my school is full of hatred. I believe the only way to stop this Mob-Like mentality is not through mandating race training for teachers or hiring more chancellors for racial issues but letting the students change the hearts of themselves.”
Oct. 8: Chancellor Loftin announces that beginning in January, all incoming students will be required to complete diversity training. The university will also hire a vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity, and equity.
Oct. 10: At homecoming, 11 black student protestors block the car of UM’s president, Tim Wolfe.
Oct. 24: A swastika scrawled in feces is found on the bathroom wall of a dormitory.
Nov. 2: Graduate student Jonathan Butler announces a hunger strike, demanding the resignation of the college’s president.
Nov. 2: Mizzou leadership struggles with an appropriate response to the hunger strike. “Does admiring [Butler’s] courage = calling going on a hunger strike courageous (and in doing so glorify it)?” wonders President Wolfe’s chief of staff as administrators draft a statement.
Nov. 3: The group #ConcernedStudent1950 issues a list of demands. Among other items, they want President Wolfe to be removed—and to hold a news conference at which he would publicly apologize and “acknowledge his white male privilege.”
Nov. 6: Emails show the protestors do not speak for all students on campus. One writes to President Wolfe: “While racism exists at Mizzou, there are a great deal of students who disagree with methods for ridding racism. … We do not agree with the recent attacking of your personhood, for that will not resolve anything.”
Nov. 7: Black football players say they will boycott football games until President Wolfe’s removal. Students continue disruptive protests in several locations on campus. One shouts, “If you’re uncomfortable, I did my job.”
— 常然 (Anurag Chandran) (@AnuragRC) November 7, 2015
Nov. 8: Football coach Gary Pinkel tweets out that he supports his players’ decision.
Nov. 8: Athletic director Mack Rhoades and Coach Pinkel issue a statement saying, “After a meeting with the team this morning, it is clear they do not plan to return to practice until Jonathan resumes eating.”
Nov. 9: The backlash begins against the football team. President Wolfe resigns, while Chancellor Loftin announces he will also step down and “transition” into another position at the school. The same day, a viral video captures communciations professor Melissa Click calling for “some muscle” against a student reporter.
Nov. 9: A parent writes: “It is only a matter of time before the remainder of Mr. Butler’s demands are implemented with the mob’s threats not so subtly in the background, demands that range from totalitarian to insane. … I have two sons at Mizzou. I will be immediately searching for alternatives for both. I do not trust the education they might receive at such a school.”
Nov. 9: A Department of Athletics staffer asks the parents of a current student for their sizes so he can send them Mizzou T-shirts. “No thank you,” the mom writes. “After what has transpired these last couple of days, as an alumni and a parent of a current student, I am ashamed and embarrassed.”
Nov. 9: A freshman writes to Chancellor Bowen Loftin: “Amongst the racial tensions at Mizzou I feel as though some of the protestors have handled it poorly. … I believe the racism issue is smaller than it is being made out to be. … That is why it pains me to say I just received a call from my parents today saying they were considering pulling me out of Mizzou.”
Nov. 9: A donor writes “to finalize my 40 year history with the Athletic Department of the University of Missouri.” He adds: “For the last 10 years, I have attended between 60-85 athletic events per year… always bought a ticket, program (if available), two hot dogs and a small diet coke. … Now, I have a hole in my heart that you could can drive a truck through. … I pledge from this day forward NOT TO contribute to the [Tiger Scholarship Fund], buy any tickets to a University of Missouri athletic event, to attend any athletic event (even if free), to give away all my MU clothes (nearly my entire wardrobe) after I have removed any logos associated with the University of Missouri, and any cards/helmets/ice buckets/flags with the University of Missouri Logo on it.”
Nov. 9: A black student writes to President Wolfe: “As an African American student, I am embarrassed by some of my fellow students’ behavior and words toward you and I apologize on their behalf. …. I really hope you know that there are some of us who feel you did not deserve this.”
Nov. 10: A senior internal recruiter for TEKsystems, an information-technology company that hires hundreds of new college graduates a year, writes to the director for student-athlete development: “With everything that is going on at the school, I regret to inform you that we are unable to attend the career fair today.”
Nov. 10: A 2015 graduate of the UM law school writes: “I am ashamed to say that I graduated from the University of Missouri. I will be revoking the pledge I made upon graduation, and I will not be making any future monetary donations. I know I am not the only alum who feels this way.”
Nov. 11: A woman who has bought season tickets for more than 30 years writes to the athletic director: “It is an outrage that Missouri University football players threatened to refuse playing ball unless their demands are met. … Along with other supporters of the program I will consider dropping my support. … I would rather the team forfeit the game this Saturday than to give in to their demands.”
Nov. 11: Dr. Tim Evans, an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathology, writes to his colleagues: “I applaud the support provided to our protesting students who, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with them, are using what they have learned in the classroom and putting it to practice.”
Nov. 11: A parent paying full tuition for his sophomore son writes: “Free speech is under assault on campus by immature, spoiled, thin skinned punks. … I am seriously considering removing my son after this semester. I will never allow him to take politically correct ‘racial sensitivity training’ if required.”
Interim chancellor Hank Foley notes: “I’ve been getting these kinds of emails for days now also.”
Nov. 11: Alum writes: “You have allowed Ms. Click and 200 misinformed students with passion to undo 20 years of progress at MU. …. My wife and I have agreed that MU is NOT a school we would even consider for our three children. … Since when do football players choose the leadership at MU and blackmail a university? MU has developed into the Berkeley of the Midwest.”
Nov. 11: An MU fan writes asking for a refund for his ticket purchase: “Two good men lost their jobs, extremists are running around the campus, and now I have a label of white privilege. Nothing screams white privilege like sitting in donor seats and parking in donor lots.”
Nov. 12: A group of athletes, including a ’62-’64 Mizzou quarterback, writes about “focusing on how to financially reach donors and cease as many contributions as we can.” One alum floats the idea of asking “to rescind the induction of the 1964 Baseball Team into the Missouri Intercollegiate Sports Hall of Fame” as a way to protest the recent events on campus.
Nov. 13: Coach Pinkel steps down, citing a recent lymphoma diagnosis and saying his decision has nothing to do with recent events on campus.
Nov. 13: Member of the Missouri 100, an advisory group supporting Mizzou, writes: “From the alumni I talk to there appears to be a backlash building that is not good for future support of the university. One classmate told me that he changed his trust yesterday to delete a gift to MU, others just do not understand the football players ‘striking.’ A couple have said it was time to take a play form the Ronald Reagan playbook on how the air traffic controllers were handled.”
The vice chancellor for advancement responds: “We have a lot of these messages of pulling support.”
Nov. 16: Grandmother writes that she will “pull every dime” from her granddaughter’s tuition trust “before I allow her to set foot on your campus.” She continues: “What is occurring there is a national and academic disgrace and embarrassment! Absolutely disgusting!”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Independent Women’s Forum and the Steamboat Institute.