The relationship between the University of Missouri and the state's legislators is under unprecedented strain.
A number of university folks are upset about interference from the Capitol about its contract with Planned Parenthood and the effort to get rid of assistant professor Melissa Click.
Government leaders are horrified about protests portraying our flagship public university and the state at large as racist, which led in November to the removal of MU’s highest officials.
They don’t want a public institution to have any involvement with abortion. Some may see the university as a socialist incubator.
These feelings were not invented by politicians. Resentment has been on the rise for a long time, as rural Missourians see both their children and tax dollars going to Columbia, with neither seeming to ever come back.
Legislators representing another state university in their backyard see MU as their main funding competitor.
Winning men’s basketball and football teams may have kept these resentments at bay, until both squads stopped, well, winning. Then some Mizzou fans became really offended when football players, with Coach Gary Pinkel's backing, threatened to boycott a game last fall.
This was like a punch in the gut to those who follow Tiger sports religiously.
The Athletics Department’s phone was ringing off the hook with enraged fans, I heard. I also heard the university was reluctant to ask for donations for a while. Game over.
Legislators say when they tour the state these days, the first thing most ordinary residents ask is, "What in the world is going on at the university?"
They also share examples of high school seniors around the Show-Me state ditching plans to attend MU.
At a forum on campus last week, I asked Sens. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, what the state is obligated to fund and what authority it has over MU.
With a $500 million appropriation for MU up for debate, Schaefer explained that, unlike K-12 education, the Legislature has no legal obligation to give the UM System a dime.
There are now proposals to micromanage MU — requiring the teaching of certain courses, for example, allowing concealed weapons on campus, and asking for control over personnel decisions.
Sen. Schmitt confirmed that he and his colleagues have no authority over, say, firing professors, but if things are going on at MU that people in the state find unacceptable, that sentiment will logically influence elected officials who have power over the purse strings.
Another fellow suggested to me that it’s like voices at MU are yelling on a street corner at the Capitol, "You all suck!," then demanding in the next breath "to show me the money."
These are not smart tactics in touchy times.
There is an urgent need to fundamentally re-examine the increasingly irreconcilable relationship between the university and the state.
In fact, after 177 years, the time has come for good, honest scholarship about the arrangement. There are surely more orderly and mutually beneficial ways for MU to achieve greater independence in the 21st century.