The Thomas Jefferson Center every year hands out its Jefferson Muzzle awards, recognizing the worst affronts to free speech. We doubt many winners display them on the mantle or in the trophy case with pride.

Maybe the University of Missouri should start looking for a dark, dusty corner with some empty space because a 2016 "award" is headed its way from the Virginia-based, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.

In addition, Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, won a dishonorable mention for his attempt to block a University of Missouri student's dissertation about the effect of a state law mandating a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions.

MU was hardly alone in being cited, because campuses across the nation earned dubious recognitions this year.

"Never in our 25 years of awarding Jefferson Muzzles have we observed such an alarming concentration of anti-speech activity as we saw last year on college campuses across the country," the Jefferson Center announced.

Instead of the usual rogues' gallery of about 10 individuals or institutions worthy of recognition, this year the center is giving Muzzles to 50 colleges and universities across the nation where free speech took it on the chin in 2015.

For instance, Emporia State University in Kansas was recognized for ejecting reporters from a public forum on race relations,

The event that won the University of Missouri such unwanted attention shouldn't be hard to guess.

In a video that ended up being replayed endlessly last November, an assistant professor of mass media studies was captured asking for "some muscle" to help get a reporter removed from the site of a public protest during last year's Concerned Student 1950 controversy.

Melissa Click, who was fired by the university system Board of Curators, became the face — fairly or unfairly — of the unwise attempt to shield student protesters from the media, even when they were in public places.

That wasn't the only incident that won the school notice from the Jefferson Center. The center also cited a short-lived social media policy adopted by the School of Law Student Body Association and an email from campus police asking students to report "incidents of hateful and/or hurtful speech."

Ironically, Thomas Jefferson's original tombstone is on the Francis Quadrangle on the Columbia campus just west of the chancellor's residence.

When heirs of the nation's third president replaced his tombstone at Jefferson's Monticello estate, they decided to give the original one to the University of Missouri, the first public university in the Louisiana Purchase Territory, which Jefferson is credited with acquiring from France in 1803. The monument arrived at MU in July 1883.

Missourians should demand better from one of their flagship institutions of higher education than succumbing to the "epidemic of anti-speech activity" at American colleges and universities that compelled the academic focus of this year's Muzzles.

Indeed, the greatest shame of all is that so many schools went so far to suppress free speech. College should offer a time when students are exposed to a wide variety of ideas and expression, learning both to navigate their own thoughts and opinions, and how to respond to countering notions.

On second thought, perhaps MU should display its Muzzle so it remembers that lesson and doesn't win another.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.


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