After two-and-a-half years, the University of Missouri at Columbia is still struggling to reinvent its negative image following race-based protests that attracted negative national attention. The protests were highlighted by a viral video of former communications professor Melissa Click threatening a student journalist.
Despite Click being terminated and time passing, freshman enrollment remains down at the public university that contributed to the commonly used derogatory terms “safe space” and “snowflakes.” The decline in enrollment has cost the university millions and prompted the layoff of 350 employees.
According to a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of Missouri at Columbia has hired branding firm 160over90 to repair the negative perception of the school at a cost of $1.3 million over three years.
“We were caught off guard,” said Alexander Cartwright, the chancellor of the Columbia campus who was hired in 2017. Cartwright noted that rebuilding trust is challenging in a time of rampant misinformation that influences peoples’ viewpoints.
The university has blamed the media for fomenting the negative perception of the school. Prospective students and their parents continue to ask about the Click incident during campus tours, and college counselors across Missouri report that many parents remain concerned about the protests.
Since the protests and the subsequent decline in enrollment, the administration of the university engaged in a “listening tour” and spent $1.8 million on marketing aimed at recruiting and enrolling for the fall – which amounts to about $230 per student.
Fox News reported that enrollment is projected to be up by 14 percent and that the school has received a “significant amount of increased support from legislators, alumni and the general public,” according to a university spokesperson.
Following the protests, the university established a council on race relations and hired more black faculty members. The response of the administration to the students’ behavior caused outrage among some alumni, while others viewed the measures taken by the university as extreme.