POLITICS
02/12/2016 03:40 pm ET

Missouri Lawmakers Push To Punish Mizzou Because Students Protested

Apparently, they carried the "exercising their First Amendment rights" thing too far.
One GOP lawmaker thinks the student protests made Mizzou "a laughingstock."
Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images
One GOP lawmaker thinks the student protests made Mizzou "a laughingstock."

A committee of the Missouri legislature voted this week to penalize the University of Missouri's flagship campus financially because students there engaged in protests.

State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger (R-Jackson) cited student activism as the reason to pass a budget amendment that would exclude Mizzou from any increase in state support for higher education next year, according to local media reports

"They are there to learn, not to protest all day long. I thought we learned that lesson in the '60s. Obviously we haven't," she said.

Lichtenegger, who chairs the House Committee for Higher Education Appropriations, had proposed the amendment. Her office told HuffPost that she was not available to comment on the budget this week.

Students protested at the University of Missouri in November over the administration's response to multiple incidents of racism on and near campus, over a confrontation between activists and then-President Tim Wolfe, and over decisions to scrap health insurance for graduate students and cut ties to Planned Parenthood. 

"It seems to me that the legislature is trying to retaliate against the university for the events that happened last fall," said junior Polly Haun, a student government senator at Mizzou. She worried that if her school doesn't receive the budget increases being considered for other state-funded Missouri colleges and universities, there will be tuition increases.

"Students should feel free to express themselves about important issues on campus without the threat of rising tuition costs, and the university should be able to operate independently of the legislature," Haun said. 

Students celebrate in November after Mizzou's president resigned under pressure over his response to racism on campus.
Brian Davidson/Getty Images
Students celebrate in November after Mizzou's president resigned under pressure over his response to racism on campus.

At Wednesday's committee hearing, Lichtenegger suggested that Mizzou's board of curators, the university's governing body, should do more to prevent students from protesting. 

"It would be one thing if it just made state news, but this is national," she said. "It has made our university a laughingstock, and I'm trying to make people understand that we are not going to be a laughingstock."

Her committee voted Wednesday to provide a 2 percent increase in state appropriations for public colleges except for Mizzou's flagship Columbia campus, MissouriNet reports

In justifying that decision, Lichtenegger also pointed to the university's handling of Melissa Click, a tenured professor seen on video trying to block student journalists from an area on campus where protesters were gathered during the November demonstrations. 

Click was charged with misdemeanor assault last month for her actions and agreed to do community service to avoid prosecution. She publicly apologized for a second time this week. The university has suspended Click while it determines whether to levy its own sanctions.

Had the chair of the university's communications department, where Click teaches, immediately revoked the professor's "privileges" following the confrontation, "we wouldn't be in this mess right now," Lichtenegger said at the hearing.

The American Association of University Professors has criticized Mizzou for suspending Click, which it contended violates her due process rights

"There are University procedures in place for handling the situation," Galen Suppes, president of the association's Mizzou chapter, told HuffPost in an email. "For the legislature to expect the University to by-pass its own procedures is wrong on many levels."

He urged state lawmakers to "not act rashly (as they appear to be acting)."

The University of Missouri said it does not comment on pending legislation. 

Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter covering higher education, based in New York. You can reach him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com or on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

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