Nicholas Pauze: The University of Missouri Protest Shows the Role Money Plays in Social Change

Link to Nicholas Pauze’s LinkedIn homepage

I am pleased to host another student guest post, this time by Nicholas Pauze. This is the 14th student guest post this semester. You can see all the student guest posts from my “Monetary and Financial Theory” class at this link

I had to look up the Wikipedia article “2015 University of Missouri protests” to get enough information to figure out what I thought about the protests. I come down on thinking that university administrators and professors bear a large responsibility to teach students about both the value of respecting all human beings and the value of free speech. The administrators at the University of Missouri did not do this part of their job. The way to teach both the value of respecting all human beings and the value of free speech at the same time is to use free speech to excoriate racism and all other affronts to human dignity in no uncertain terms. 

It is quite possible to say that someone has a right to say something but that they are totally wrong, for the following powerful reasons … To do things right, the arguments against racism need to be reargued powerfully for every new cohort of students, just as the arguments for free speech need to be reargued powerfully for each new cohort of students (and just as, for example, the scientific arguments for evolution need to be reargued powerfully for each new cohort of students). A university is not the place to rely on authority and tradition. Professors and administrators need to make the case to each new cohort of students for the truths that have been discovered over humankind’s existence. If collectively they can’t make the case for key principles that our civilization is founded on, they don’t deserve to be professors and administrators at a university.  

Here is what Nicholas has to say about how things went down at the University of Missouri, and what that means strategically for those who want to foster positive social change: 

Despite the enormous victory that it represented to many, the Missouri protests show that it is only when money is either to be gained or lost that social change takes place in our country.

This past month had a huge victory for civil rights to end discrimination but a victory that points out a big flaw in our society. What seemed to be yet another story of racism and discrimination finally had a happy ending. After nearly a month of protest and a week and a half of a food fast, the president of Missouri decided to step down. Sadly he did so only the day after the football team joined in–putting money into the equation. Despite the enormous victory that it represented to many, the Missouri protests show that only when money is either to be gained or lost is when the most social change takes place in our country.

What happened this past month with protest leading to action and real change should not be ignored or minimized. This represents the power of even just one student choosing to go all out for a cause and how that can inspire real change. The president at Missouri did need to step down. Even though he himself was not racist, his decision not to act had made him ineffective as a leader. When he stepped down he made thousands of people feel that they had been heard for the first time. The unfortunate part of the whole story is that one could argue that Jonathan Butler’s heroic action was not to get the president fired but to get the football team involved. The football team’s decision to join represents potential money loss because forfeiting would cost the school one million dollars.

Once money became involved, change was quick to follow. The Washington Post documented how the team tweeted out Sunday and by Monday the president had resigned. This represents another important example of how social change really happens when money can be lost. It is a sad truth in our society because we have so much protest going on but much is from those who do not have money or influence and thus do not have a voice that is likely to be heard.

Just one other example from the past week shows the inverse of this when Donald Trump hosted Saturday Night Live. There were over 500 thousand signatures from people protesting his hosting. The Huffington post indicated how the outrage was because of the racist comments Trump has been known to say. Yet despite the massive support and even coverage there was no real threat to his hosting Saturday Night Live because the ratings would still be good and no sponsors were threatening to drop out. 

Protests today need to be aimed at the people who control the money flow because as history shows, the money is what guides many of the people who are targets of such protests. The most successful changes we have seen in recent memory come when sponsors speak or when athletes or people of influence speak because unfortunately they are the ones who affect money and that seems far too important in leading to change. In the meantime we need to point out those who say they want change but only respond to money to try to alleviate the need for money to drive change.