Students Claim Victory After University of Missouri President Resigns
University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned Monday amid student protests calling for him to quit or be fired for his mishandling of racial harassment on campus, including an incident in which a swastika made of human feces appeared on a dorm room wall.
The student-led campaign gained steam after student activist Jonathan Butler declared a hunger strike on Nov. 2, citing Wolfe's failure to address repeated instances of racism on campus and calling for a new university president to replace him.
Demonstrations reached a boiling point, garnering national attention, when the school football team declared on Saturday that it was going on strike. The team, about half of which is black, gained the support of its head coach, Gary Pinkel, who tweeted about his solidarity with the movement.
Wolfe, who was named president of the university system in 2012, said at a morning press conference in Columbia, Missouri, that his stepping down was the right thing to do.
"My motivation in making this decision comes from love," he said, visibily choked up. "I love MU, Columbia, where I grew up, the state of Missouri." He acknowledged the activism of student groups, including Concerned Student 1950, which has been advocating to raise awareness about racial tensions on campus, and Butler, a member of the group that took "immediate action or unusual steps to affect change," Wolfe commented. He said he hoped the campus would use the resignation to heal and to move forward.
On Twitter, Butler announced that his weeklong hunger strike was over but stressed that his campus activism would continue. The hunger strike was launched last week in a public letter to the University of Missouri Curators in which Butler described what he characterized as Wolfe's refusal to create a positive learning environment for students of color. "In each of these scenarios, Mr. Wolfe had ample opportunity to create policies and reform that could shift the culture of Mizzou in a positive direction, but in each scenario he failed to do so," Butler wrote.
He detailed several recent campus incidents in which the president of the Missouri Students Association was called a racial slur and members of the activist group Concerned Student 1950 were threatened with pepper spray during a peaceful demonstration. Tensions have escalated since last month's homecoming parade, in which Concerned Student 1950 staged a protest aimed at getting Wolfe's attention. The then president appeared to ignore protesters, who said he bumped them with his car at one point, the Columbia Missourian reported. The Missouri Students Association also voiced its support for Wolfe's resignation, saying that the academic careers of students were suffering because of tumult on campus.
Concerned Student 1950, which takes its name from the year black students were first admitted to the school, issued a list of demands that goes far beyond Wolfe's ousting. It calls for the creation of a comprehensive racial-awareness training program, increased hiring of black faculty and staff, and a strategic 10-year plan toward retaining black students.
After Wolfe's resignation was announced, students cheered the victory with rallies, songs, and celebrations on the university's quad. But many activists and student groups said the resignation is just the first step toward addressing racial tensions on campus. "We cannot allow the systematic oppression of MU students to continue, we must create institutional changes immediately to ensure that [the] voices of each student are heard and responded to," Missouri Students Association said in a statement on Monday.
Mizzou students celebrate this initial win re: Wolfe's resignation as they continue to press the other demands. pic.twitter.com/vcvOU2VaMx— deray mckesson (@deray) November 9, 2015