Is The University of Missouri Being Honest?

Last week, I blogged about the lack of leadership that the University of Missouri Chancellor Loftin displayed in the aftermath of the apartment walkway collapse on Saturday, February 22, that killed 23-year veteran Columbia firefighter, Bruce Britt. Following the collapse, Chancellor Loftin said that all university-owned buildings undergo routine inspections, and that the apartment building had last been inspected sometime within the past two years. He could not pinpoint a specific date. He sought to assure the University of Missouri community that the safety and security of students was of top priority, saying that inspections of all University buildings would commence Monday morning, February 24.

It Turns Out, University Buildings Are NOT Inspected On A Routine Basis

In response to a reporter’s question as to why inspections had not started by late Monday afternoon, Christian Basi, spokesman for the University, said that the University was still trying to figure out the best way to proceed.

On Tuesday, February 25, it was revealed that the University could not find the inspection report on the apartment building where the collapse occurred. Now, a full week later—Basi said that residential buildings are not officially inspected on a routine basis. Instead, the University relies on reports and complaints from residents and maintenance workers to address problems. The University claims that over the last five-ten years, “hundreds of reports” had been generated on the apartment building (maybe this should have been the University’s first clue that something could be seriously wrong), and that maintenance workers had been in it at least once a week, responding to complaints.

Smoke and Mirrors

Since the day of the collapse on February 22, KSDK—a television station in St. Louis—has been asking for inspection reports. It’s been a process akin to walking on rapidly shifting sand. Here is a review:

  • On February 22, Loftin said that all University buildings were inspected on a routine basis and that the collapsed apartment building had been inspected within the last two years.
  • On Monday, February 24, University officials reported that all residential buildings had been inspected for safety in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and that only minor problems had been found. Nevertheless, University personnel spent the days following the collapse installing structural supports for other apartment buildings in the University Village complex.
  • By late Monday afternoon, February 24, the inspection process had not begun. Basi defended the delay, saying that the University was still trying to determine the best way to proceed since it has so many buildings.
  • On Tuesday, February 25, the University revealed that it couldn’t find the inspection report in question.
  • On March 3, Basi conceded that only academic, not residential buildings (you know: the buildings where students spend the greater part of their time, eating, studying, socializing and sleeping), were inspected on a routine basis. Instead, the University relied on the anecdotal reports of students and workers to stay on top of maintenance issues. (I guess the University gives students a lot of credit for understanding issues pertaining to structural engineering.)
  • KSDK continued to ask for copies of the inspection reports. As of yesterday, March 3, Basi said that reports would not be released until March 5. In defending the delay, Basi said that the school’s Residential Life and Campus Facilities’ office has been too busy helping residents displaced by the collapse find new places to live to produce the reports. (Question: Do the same folks working at Campus Life really have responsibility for generating and producing these reports? If so, maybe some thought should be given to delegating or outsourcing this critical task to someone else.)
  • As of yesterday, KSDK said that it had recently heard from a resident concerned about the structural integrity of the daycare center located inside University Village complex. Basi responded by saying that the facility had just passed all of its annual state inspection for license renewal with no problems. (Question: does this inspection include an audit of the structural integrity of the building? Did the State send out structural engineers as part of this audit?)

At this point, I could proffer an opinion as to this convoluted sequence of events, including the evasive and misleading statements on the part of the University…but I really don’t need to. The facts of the situation are so blatantly painful and so lacking in credibility that they speak for themselves. Every student, every parent, every faculty and staff member, every Missouri taxpayer should be forcefully calling for an independent investigation of the University’s building inspection process instead of relying on the smoke-and-mirror responses we’ve been getting from University officials.

And as for those inspection reports due to be released tomorrow, I have only one question: can we really believe them?

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