In the early glory days of University Oklahoma football – just after the school had won its first mythical national championship – then-University President Dr. George L. Cross found himself defending a budget request to the State Legislature’s appropriations committee.
”Yes, that’s all well and good,” responded one State Senator. ”But what kind of football team are we going to have this year?”
Dr. Cross’s cynical but witty reply: ”We want to build a university our football team can be proud of.”
Although Dr. Cross later said that he thought his “whole presentation had been wasted,” the quotation was picked across the country and – although often misattributed – remains famous today. And well it should, for on Monday, November 9, 2015, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation – at the behest of the University’s football team.
At the moment, it seems, neither the University of Missouri nor its football team has much to be proud of. The team, the third in the same conference called “the Tigers” (along with LSU and Auburn, also known as “War Eagles”), is a middling 4-5 with three games to play. The University stands accused, by the football team and others, of being insufficiently sensitive to racial slights perceived by its minority of African-American students, who claim to feel marginalized.
The conflagration reportedly began when student government president Payton Head complained that people in a passing pickup truck had shouted racial slurs at him. Then shortly before the University’s Homecoming in October, members of a black student organization called the Legion of Black Collegians claimed that an apparently drunken white student hurled similar slurs.
In retaliation, on Homecoming itself, yet another minority rights group calling itself “Concerned Student 1950” surrounded President Wolfe and demanded that he get out of his car and acknowledge his “white male privilege” and “admit to his gross negligence.” He didn’t. Now he’s history. No word yet on how the football team, which skipped two days of practice, will do this weekend against BYU.
It’s unclear what the student body president was doing when he was allegedly accosted or even if anyone witnessed the alleged incident, but unless the miscreants were University employees driving a University truck, it’s difficult to see what their conduct has to do with the school or its president. As for what a drunken fellow student says, white or black, as my late mother would have said, “consider the source.”
What the aggrieved students at the University of Missouri apparently want is what their counterparts across the country at Yale College, one of the country’s elite institutions, also want: the ability to hold themselves apart for special treatment on the basis of their minority status, while at the same time claiming they’re being discriminated against. (Certain students at Yale, as you may have read, are demanding that one of the school’s residential college “masters” resign because his wife responded insensitively to a campus-wide email suggesting that students be more “thoughtful” in their choice of Halloween costumes. She suggested, in so many words, that the original email was just a little bit silly and a little bit preachy in that Halloween was, after all, an opportunity to release one’s inner child.)
Bear in mind that 35,000-student body at Mizzou is reportedly 79 percent white and only 8 percent black, yet elected an African-American as its student government president. Bear in mind also that the Missouri Tigers were the first major college football team in America openly to embrace an openly gay player, Michael Sam, notwithstanding his apparent inability so far to make it in either the NFL or the CFL.
A person of ordinary sensibilities would think that tends to show that the University is neither institutionally racist nor narrow-minded. Unlike, say, the protesters, who have been tweeting things like “It’s typically white media who don’t understand the importance of respecting black spaces” and “If you have a problem with us wanting to have our spaces that we create respected, leave!”
On the one hand it’s hard not to experience a little schadenfreude here, with the left-wing progressive bean-counters of American academia now apparently being eaten by their own young. On the other hand, it’s a crying shame to see that the United States of America – under an African-American President, no less – has drifted so far from the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a country in which people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Higher education at least once preached fealty to the ideals of free speech and the marketplace of ideas, but today it’s all about making students feel comfortable and “safe.”
Perhaps, in time, the Missouri Tigers can yet have a university that the football team can be proud of.
In the meantime, history again repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.