In a Year Defined by Demands, Mizzou Seniors Make One More: Beer


April 15, 2016

The University of Missouri at Columbia this year has seen intense activism. It was the center of student protests last fall that sparked nationwide efforts to deal with accusations of institutional racism in higher education. But lately a group of students has championed a new, more lighthearted cause: beer. Specifically, free beer, and their right to it.

Here’s the story of how this year’s graduating class persuaded the alumni association and the university to give each one of them a pint of beer on the house.

For about 20 years, Missouri has held a send-off for graduating seniors, the Tiger Prowl. Basically, soon-to-be grads gather on the campus quad, eat, get some free Mizzou-themed swag, and prepare to say goodbye to the university and their classmates.

Then they pass through the six iconic Ionic columns, symbolizing their departure for the real world. It’s the reverse course they took as freshmen, when they strode toward Jesse Hall during the Tiger Walk.

For a number of years, the senior send-off has included a free beer or two (in the past, options have included Budweiser or Bud Light, which are brewed in-state.) In 2014 the university purchased 16 kegs of beer and Budweiser donated six more, according to the Columbia Missourian.

But last spring, the chancellor at the time, R. Bowen Loftin, and the Mizzou Alumni Association’s executive director, Todd McCubbin, said there would be no more suds at the send-off.

"We evaluate every year, and the last several years we’ve had some concerns about this may be losing focus about what this is all about. It became more about having a beer than having a nice event for graduates," Mr. McCubbin told KOMU-TV last spring. "I think traditions change all of the time."

Students were not pleased.

However, when Mr. Loftin announced plans to step down as chancellor, in November, students began to wonder if the beer would be brought back for this year’s Tiger Prowl, scheduled for the afternoon of May 6.

In the wake of racial tensions and student protests on the campus, the university established Chancellor Chats every Friday with the interim chancellor, Henry C. (Hank) Foley, during which students could pose questions to him. In early March, two seniors, Veronica DeStefano and Katherine Knott, asked Mr. Foley if they could count on his support to bring back the beer. In a follow-up email to Mr. McCubbin, they copied Mr. Foley. He replied to all, voicing his support.

"I’m in favor of these seniors having a beer or two together at this event," the interim chancellor wrote in his March 7 email. "Let’s use tickets and not punish 99 for the one. Besides they can ‘pre game’ and come to the event plastered anyway. Let’s treat the majority as adults."

Meanwhile, another senior, Jack Witthaus, sent an email to Vice Chancellor Catherine C. Scroggs. "I know last May former chancellor R. Bowen Loftin (and others) nixed the getting a beer after graduation tradition," he wrote. "I was wondering, since Loftin is no longer the chancellor, if we could bring that tradition back. I think it was a pretty cool tradition that most people enjoyed. I understand the reason for canceling the event had to do ‘send(ing) the right message,’ but I’m not so sure how much one beer per student detracts from MU’s image."

She told him his request "was under consideration."

Then, on Wednesday, Mr. Witthaus posted on Facebook: "WE DID IT! WE GOT BEER AT SENIOR SENDOFF! BE PROUD, EVERYBODY!" Attached was a picture of an invitation to Tiger Prowl sent to graduating seniors with a line that said, "one pint of beer for graduates 21 and older. … You must have your ID verified to receive a wristband to redeem a beer at Senior Sendoff. Limit 1 per person. (We suggest you arrive early to avoid the lines.)" The beer is back.

One beer per graduate isn’t much, but for Mr. Witthaus, it’s a nice gesture to complete a senior year marked largely by turmoil.

"I guess, in a larger sense, there are some real issues here at Mizzou, and that can’t be overstated," he said in an interview. "But it is nice to have this tradition restored for the class. For the most part, people looked at Mizzou with a lot of disdain, and people were upset by what happened, and people said some pretty rough things about Mizzou. So just leaving here and having this is a nice small gesture."