Following months of student protests, University of Missouri (UM) system president Tim Wolfe tendered his resignation at a meeting of the University Board of Curators this morning. Students on the flagship campus in Columbia have been calling for his resignation, saying he has not done enough to protect and support African American students on the predominantly white campus in the wake of racially charged incidents.
Tension at the university has been building since September when Mizzou senior and Missouri Students Association President Payton Head recounted on Facebook having been called the “N-word” while on campus. Other students followed suit, posting to social media their similar experiences of racism on campus.
The next month, members of the Legion of Black Collegians were the target of racial slurs, which led to Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announcing mandatory diversity training for students, faculty, and staff. Some on campus said the training did not go far enough to improve the campus climate.
Then, during the university’s homecoming parade in October, members of Concerned Student 1950 — a protest group, which references the year the university began admitting African American students — blocked Wolfe’s car along the parade route. The president did not get out to address the students, and police were called in to break up the demonstration.
Shortly after, Concerned Student 1950 presented a list of demands to Wolfe, which called for a formal apology and his resignation. The departments of Black Studies and Classical Studies and the School of Health Professions expressed their support for the demands.
Wolfe met with the group to address their demands, but no resolutions were made. At the meeting, Wolfe said he was “not completely aware of systemic racism, sexism, and patriarchy on campus,” according to a statement by Concerned Student 1950.
Several days later, graduate student Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike to protest Wolfe’s inaction in addressing a “slew of racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., incidents that have dynamically disrupted the learning experience at the University of Missouri,” according to a letter he wrote to the UM System Board of Curators. Butler declared he would not eat until the president resigned or his organs gave out and he died. As of Wolfe’s resignation on Nov. 9, Butler had gone one week without food.
African American members of the Mizzou football team — 60 of the 124 on the team —voiced their solidarity with Butler and other protesters over the weekend, saying they would boycott all football-related activities until Wolfe resigned. Their white teammates and coaches joined in support, and head coach Gary Pinkel posted on Twitter, “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.”
In his resignation speech, Wolfe said that the problems of the recent months developed because members of the campus community “stopped listening to each other.”
“My motivation in making this decision comes from love,” he said. “I love MU, Columbia, where I grew up, and the state of Missouri. I have thought greatly about this decision, and it’s the right thing to do — … use my resignation to heal and start talking again.”
On Twitter, Butler noted that Wolfe’s exit is a beginning: “This is only the first step! More change is to come!!”
Update: MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin to step down at the end of the year.