Editor’s note: This letter was received following news that 15 faculty from the MU School of Journalism sent a letter to President and Chancellor Mun Choi asking for greater transparency and free speech.
I would like to add my name to the list of professors in the School of Journalism who have taken issue with you regarding your latest admonitions to the MU community (faculty, students, staff) that we curtail our actions and desires regarding policies in the university and in society with which we are not in agreement.
They could not have expressed their concerns more succinctly: “Freedom of expression, scrutiny of public officials and open government are bedrock principals of a democracy and of institutions of higher learning.” Speaking for myself, I am more than disappointed in the statements and recommendations you have made, I am outraged. Referencing the incidents that led to the resignation of your predecessor, you and your administration make a plea for silence in the wake of intolerable situations, such as the death of Missouri citizen Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson, Missouri, police. Since then, that horrific event has repeated itself countless times.
How can you expect students in 2020 to remain silent in the wake of such crimes? Your assistant has said, “Widespread protests could impact enrollment, financially impacting our division … This is a concern of our president and should be, right? 2015 was devastating. And so the last thing that our president and our curators want to risk is something so damaging like 2015.” Conclusion? If you are concerned about racist policies, be silent. That is not the message I as an emeritus professor have communicated to my students for many years. And I hope that the colleagues who continue to teach (online or face-to-face) continue to encourage active participation in the democratic process.
As we all deal with the devastation of COVID-19, in addition to the dangerous direction of our government toward authoritarianism, the very last outcome we should strive for is further diminution of our democratic institutions. Your statements regarding the present situation of the university lead many of us to believe that you are leading us further into the realm of the destruction of our democracy.
I hope you reconsider your actions and recommendations.
Michael Ugarte is an emeritus professor of Romance Languages at MU.