Steve Booher common thoughts - NEW LEAD

Newspapers and television stations hire quite a few University of Missouri graduates. That’s because the school has an excellent journalism program and students that complete it are often well-prepared to work in a newsroom.

You wonder if that will change after the events of this past fall and winter.

I read a recent news story that estimated that the school was expecting 900 fewer incoming freshmen next fall. Some of that is due to a shrinking pool of high-school graduates but the racial tensions that visited the campus and led to president Tim Wolfe’s resignation are at least partly to blame.

Remember that Wolfe resigned, in part, because the football team voted to not participate in any team activities until he was gone. The cost of not playing football games would have run into the millions and millions of dollars.

Not that Mizzou had much success last season. The Tigers finished with a 5-7 record and, though they could have petitioned the NCAA to participate in a bowl game, the administration decided against it. Soon after, head coach Gary Pinkel resigned and former player and coach Barry Odom replaced him.

But there is no doubt that the school and its football team will be hurt by all the controversy.

And, there’s evidence that the racial tension hasn’t been completely eradicated by Wolfe’s resignation. Stories still surface about threatening social media posts and racist notices posted around campus.

Mizzou has become a symbol for civil unrest. How do you fight that?

Well, here’s a couple of ideas.

First, Mizzou needs to find another Elson Floyd to replace Wolfe. Floyd, an African-American, led the university from 2003 to 2007.

Floyd was nicknamed “E-Flo” by students because he was so accessible. He sat with the students during athletic events. He gave his cellphone number to any student who asked for it, including student reporters.

Floyd died of cancer last year but surely there are other candidates that have similar qualities.

Another move would be to let the football team take the lead in building racial tolerance. Let’s face it, the team essentially volunteered for this when it voted not to play until Wolfe resigned.

According to numbers I saw, only 7 percent of Mizzou’s students are black while 69 percent of the football team is black. This is, perhaps, the biggest concentration of minority students at Mizzou.

And athletes have a tremendous social presence on campus. At the very least, they can significantly influence campus attitudes and emotions. At the most, they can define their school’s reputation.

And I’m sorry, but you don’t get to threaten to quit then just disappear. Those athletes took a stand and blew apart the administration. They should take the lead, putting the school back together.

Right now, Mizzou stands at a crossroads. It’s possible our state’s flagship school will continue to struggle with social issues, continue to decline in enrollment and eventually face serious financial issues.

But the right president and the right group leading the discussion about race and tolerance and equality might be able to turn things around.

We’ll see what moves the school will make in the coming months. Every eye in Missouri will be turned toward Columbia.

Steve Booher can be reached at steve.booher@newspressnow.com.