A law professor at the University of Missouri argued recently that minority students should develop the ability to “threaten costly unrest.”
Professor Ben Trachtenberg of the University of Missouri, which has faced a serious enrollment and budgetary crisis in the aftermath of 2015-2016 social justice protests, argued in a recent academic piece that “minority students maintain the ability to credibly threaten costly unrest.”
There is an old saying in labor relations circles that a union unwilling to strike has no power to help workers, and management unable to take a strike will get rolled every time. Similarly, minority students must maintain the ability to credibly threaten costly unrest, even if they — like workers who know the strike fund has precious little money — generally have no desire to occupy lawns, boycott games, or otherwise miss out on their normal college experiences. Meanwhile, university leaders must have the backbone needed to say no to unreasonable demands, and even to say “not now” to some perfectly reasonable demands that cannot be satisfied in this year’s budget. Yet administrators must also strive to say yes when they can, even when it seems hard and when other priorities intrude. They can tell student activists to “wait” only for so long.
The paper, was first highlighted by The College Fix, focuses on the 2015-2016 protests and the subsequent consequences for the university. The protests involved several accusations that university officials were mishandling racial issues on campus. Certain claims, such as the claim that the Ku Klux Klan was organizing on or near campus, were later proven to be hoaxes.
In the tradition of legal narrative and storytelling, this Article explores how the University of Missouri managed to fare so badly after students began protesting during the fall of 2015. It reviews the details and context of the Missouri protests and then presents a case study of crisis management and conflict resolution gone awry. Applying observations about higher education policy and administration to the phenomenon of student protests—particularly those related to race—the Article identifies potential pitfalls for university administrators and student activists. It then explains how specific actions taken (and, in some cases, not taken) by University of Missouri leaders increased the risk that student protests would lead to long term institutional damage.
Trachtenberg claims that racial unrest at the University of Missouri is not worse than it is at any other university. He warns other universities that they may face the same issues that the University of Missouri faced if they don’t handle racial issues properly.
“Contrary to popular opinion, Mizzou did not have a uniquely bad racial climate, nor did its students behave in inexplicable ways,” he wrote. “Instead, the challenges faced in Missouri will present themselves elsewhere, and leaders who have taken the time to learn from Mizzou’s mistakes will fare better than those who choose to ignore this history.”