Mizzou’s vice chancellor for marketing and communications, Ellen De Graffenreid, received a disheartening email last fall at the pinnacle of the crisis on campus. A disgruntled parent wrote to the university’s Board of Curators, describing how her son, a sophomore, considered transferring out, while their two high-school-aged children “have all but eliminated Mizzou from their college list.”
Someone had forwarded the note to the university’s Department of Marketing and Communications, adding: “I’m sure you already know this but you have a PR nightmare on your hands.” De Graffenreid, in turn, forwarded it to the college’s leadership, adding the letter from a parent was “pretty representative of the middle of the road people we are losing.”
New correspondence reviewed by Heat Street and National Review depicts the cataclysmic backlash against the University of Missouri as its administrators grappled with demands from rowdy protestors, a hunger-striking grad student, and a boycotting football team. The protests ultimately toppled both the president and the chancellor.
In one instance, a retired professor wrote a prescient note to top university officials, cautioning that “serious backlash could result” and that “students making demands, protests, disrupting events or that kind of thing won’t sell well outstate.”
His prediction proved spot-on. The 7,400 pages of emails, reviewed exclusively by these two publications, reveal how Mizzou overwhelmingly lost the support of longtime sports fans, donors, and alumni. Parents and grandparents wrote in from around the country declaring that their family members wouldn’t be attending Mizzou after the highly publicized controversy. Some current students talked about leaving.
This passionate backlash doesn’t appear to have been a bluff. Already, freshman enrollment is down 25%, leaving a $32 million funding gap and forcing the closure of four dorms. The month after the protests, donations to the athletic department were a mere $191,000—down 72% over the same period a year earlier. Overall fundraising also took a big hit.