Despite challenges, Mizzou strives for excellence, accountability

Dear University community,

We are now seven weeks into the semester and have been fortunate enough to continue our mission of education, research and engagement. I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Thank you to our students who have embraced learning through a mix of in-person as well as remote modes. Thank you to our faculty for working hard to provide high quality instruction in a variety of creative ways. And thank you to our staff who have worked tirelessly to support our students and our safety efforts.

As we have watched the number of active COVID-19 cases drop in recent weeks, we know we must remain vigilant until a vaccine is available. The most effective measures against this disease include wearing face coverings, social distancing and maintaining hygienic practices. I am proud to say that Tigers are taking these precautions for themselves and for the benefit of others.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Mizzou continues to show progress. Here are a few recent examples.

Mizzou’s rankings in U.S. News & World Report are climbing, with an increase of 15 spots among top national universities. This reverses a nine-year downward trend and represents the work of our dedicated faculty, staff and talented students. We also were listed as the No. 1 best value among universities in surrounding states, and were recognized as a veteran-friendly university.
We recorded an 8% increase in Phase I research expenditures (the most important AAU metric) in FY20 compared to FY19. This is an impressive gain considering the effects of the pandemic on limiting access to laboratories in the spring term.
We also learned that our enrollment is up by about 1,000 students compared to last fall, which demonstrates that students want to continue their in-person studies in Columbia.
We also set new university records for graduation rates, with our six-year graduation rate for all students at 73%, Pell students at 62% and Black students at 62.3%. The graduation rate for Black students is 22 points higher than the national average. These improvements highlight our commitment to student success.

It took all of us working together to achieve these goals. And it will take all of us to continue to flourish in the challenging environment that lies ahead.

Throughout the country, we see universities addressing the same challenges we face: COVID-19, severe economic downturns, and issues of race and justice.

Some in our community have made their concerns and objections known about these challenges, through emails, meetings, resolutions and protests. Earlier in the summer, Mizzou’s football team and athletics staff walked in solidarity to the Boone County Courthouse to register to vote. In early September, the Black Student Athletes Association marched from the columns to Faurot Field to “promote unity against the injustices.” I’m proud of their efforts to create positive change in our university and our community.

Peaceful demonstrations and protests like these are part of life in a democratic society, and they offer differing ideas, experiences and viewpoints. I am also available to meet with anyone on any topic to improve the University of Missouri. Our university respects and defends those who exercise free expression, but these activities must take place within the guidelines of university policies that support and protect free speech.

We recently had a very disruptive event on Oct. 2 in Jesse Hall that lasted 90 minutes as some protesters yelled and used profanities. The protesters were provided with multiple warnings before and during the event about our policies prohibiting disruption. While the students had a right to express their views, their actions in this location disrupted the education, research, engagement and other important business of the university. These activities are central to our mission and improve the lives of the 40,000 students, faculty and staff and millions of Missourians throughout our state. For these reasons, the students who were disruptive will be referred to the Office of Accountability and Support, provided with due process, and appropriate and consistent sanctions will be applied for those who are found to have violated our policies.

Those who want to contribute to positive change are encouraged to join in the efforts the university is pursuing toward inclusive excellence to create a greater sense of belonging and to fight against racism and discrimination. At the University of Missouri, we engage our students in programs to reduce educational and health disparities, provide mentorship to K-12 students of color, provide legal assistance for the Innocence Project, and conduct research on race and identity on American music culture. Through these activities and many others, our campus has made great strides in recent years in achieving greater diversity among faculty, staff and students, investing in new programs as part of our Inclusive Excellence Framework and supporting activities that bring greater engagement of all people. But, we also recognize that we have more work to do and that we can be more successful if we all work together.

Here is an update of the most recent efforts.

The Michael A. Middleton Center for Race, Citizenship, and Justice was recently approved by the Board of Curators. This center will pursue research that delves into the complex issues of race and equity and will develop meaningful programs to address inequities and discrimination.
A taskforce is now working on the contextualization of Thomas Jefferson. Led by historians and scholars, we hope to provide a more accurate picture of the complex legacy of this historical figure who played a part in this university’s history. I look forward to the committee’s recommendation by spring. I also invite you to attend “The Many Meanings of Thomas Jefferson” on Oct. 29, where our faculty experts will discuss Jefferson’s legacy.
Another committee, the MU History Committee, has completed its work developing ways to recognize the contributions of enslaved and indigenous people. They will soon submit a proposal for a marked walk on campus that focuses on that past, as well as the contributions of Black individuals throughout Mizzou’s history. Ultimately, the Curators will consider this proposal for approval.
In July, we committed to review MU Police procedures, enhance video capabilities for the safety of everyone on campus, launch a Bias Hotlineand develop mandatory cultural competency training, and post our commitment against discrimination throughout campus. We have already completed these projects and will continue to add refinements.
Our Division of Inclusion, Diversity & and Equity is planning a series of events to dig into the findings of the American Council of Education, which studied Mizzou’s progress on inclusive excellence over the last several years. Led by Maurice Gipson, our new Vice Chancellor of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, these events will allow us to further understand and explore the strengths and areas for improvement the report identifies. We hope for strong participation, quality conversations and valuable input so this external report can help inform our next steps in inclusive excellence.

As we navigate the challenging period ahead, my commitment to all of you is to listen, engage and make decisions that best serve all of you, our community and our state. We will accomplish our objectives in ways that honor our commitment to treating each other with respect and holding ourselves to the highest standards of responsibility and accountability.

Thank you,

Mun Y. Choi, Ph.D.
President, University of Missouri System
Chancellor, University of Missouri