Another Mizzou Millennial speaks out

COLUMBIA, Mo 9/21/15 (Beat Byte) -- "
Dear Mizzou," writes Jazmin Burrell, an alum who describes "an amazing four years, from running through the columns for Tiger Stripe ice cream to getting Shakespeare’s Pizza....There are so many great memories...but it’s becoming harder and harder for me to say that I am a PROUD Missouri Tiger." 

A 2015 strategic communications alum, Burrell has written an "Open Letter to Mizzou" -- specifically top administrators -- that's getting national buzz on Buzzfeed.  Her outspoken memo continues a recent thread some observers may find surprising. 

Often criticized for their silence on political and policy issues, Mizzou Millennials are speaking out about what they perceive as costly leadership failures in the high-stakes arena of college education, where even a degree from a public institution with in-state tuition can leave graduates towing around mortgage-sized debt for years, if not decades.     

Mizzou has done "great things," Burrell explains.  "But I am not going to cover up the insincerity that is the MU administration," which she accuses of a "lack of care for current students."  

The university has overcome an odd and divisive history, albeit slowly and incompletely, Burrell -- who is black -- explains.  "The first Black student wasn’t admitted until 1950.  'Dixie' was sung and the Confederate flag waved at football games until 1968.   'Confederate Rock' wasn’t moved from campus until 1974 (and then only to the Boone County Courthouse).   The school still has buildings and streets named after slave-owners." 

She provides the history more for context than contention, getting to the meat of her argument:  running the university is "all about the green" -- money -- and for that reason, dealing with problems means doing little more than PR'ing them to death.   

"Chancellor Loftin...changed the hierarchy and moved his public relations team right up to the top, knocking student and academic centered offices like MSA and ARS even further down the totem pole," she writes.

Problems surface, most recently a move to cut graduate student insurance, and "pacification" follows.   "Students beg for change," but are ultimately ignored, in Burrell's case when Dr. Loftin "gave me a business card and told me to follow him on social media."  

A few student forums and empty promises later, the immediacy of the problem under discussion -- e.g. racism on campus; cuts to programs such as the Missouri Press; the severing of Planned Parenthood -- is lost.   Student frustration is amped up when nearby, nationally-important events like Ferguson loom large.   

The rise of Democrat Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and the anti-establishment GOP trio of Trump, Carson, and Fiorina indicate a public increasingly fed up with out-of-touch leaders imposing significant costs on the organizations and people they lead.   These costs have become tremendous for the nation's 20 million college students, a population minority responsible for a majority of the country's current and future prosperity.

Millennials as a student and recent graduate cohort have been less vocal than peers of the past, most notably the sixties generation, and so candidly hearing from them is rare. 

Given their importance, especially to college towns like Columbia, Burrell's lament resonates.

University leaders can't keep taking all their cues from "Daddy Warbucks" -- the rich, the white, the powerful -- she writes.  Students and graduates today fit that traditional demographic less and less.   Their concerns must matter.

"The jig is up," Burrell says.   Since hers is the voice of the new donor class, leaders may be wise to take note.