Officials at the University of Missouri said they will not take action against people photographed three years ago with a Confederate flag in a picture that recently appeared online, because they are not MU students.
MU updated its statement on the issue this afternoon after FIRE reached out asking for comment.
The photo, which was posted Sunday by Twitter user @fratscenery, appeared to show five young men, one of whom was holding a Confederate flag, standing near an MU fraternity house. On Monday, MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin posted an official statement on the university’s website, in which he said that the photo “may be considered offensive and possibly even threatening to some of our community members,” and announced that “we will be working to identify those in the photo.” The statement attracted the attention of publications like Reason, which noted that the Chancellor seemed to be in a “panic” over the three-year-old photo. (The College Fix, for its part, ran the story underneath the headline “Mizzou chancellor flips out over three-year-old photo of Confederate flag near campus.”)
Concerned that MU was planning to punish students for protected expression, FIRE reached out to the university for more details. Shortly thereafter, the university removed the Chancellor’s statement from the website, although it is archived online.
University spokesperson Christian Basi told FIRE earlier today that MU had since identified the people in the photo as non-students who are outside the university’s authority.
“As far as we have been able to determine, these are not MU students,” Basi said. “There is no further action we will be taking.”
Basi also stated that Loftin’s statement was originally posted only because the Chancellor “wanted to respond” to numerous tweets he had received about the picture, and it was meant to demonstrate that Loftin was “trying to find context” about the photo. Basi said he could not speculate on what the university might have done had those pictured been students, other than to say students are required to abide by the MU rules of conduct.
Given universities’ well-documented propensity for overreacting to controversial but protected speech, MU’s quick retraction of its statement under public scrutiny is a welcome development.