[Marxism] University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of Change
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Tue Nov 10 07:07:22 MST 2015
NY Times, Nov. 10 2015
University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of Change
By JOHN ELIGON and RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Months of student and faculty protests over racial
tensions and other issues that all but paralyzed the University of
Missouri campus culminated Monday in an extraordinary coup for the
demonstrators, as the president of the university system resigned and
the chancellor of the flagship campus here said he would step down to a
less prominent role at the end of the year.
The threat of a boycott by the Missouri football team dealt the
highest-profile blow to the president, Timothy M. Wolfe, and the
chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, but anger at the administration had been
growing since August, when the university said it would stop paying for
health insurance for graduate teaching and research assistants.
It reversed course, but not before the graduate assistants held
demonstrations, threatened a walkout, took the first steps toward
forming a union and joined forces with students demonstrating against
Then the university came under fire from Republicans for ties its
medical schools and medical center had to Planned Parenthood. The
university severed those ties, drawing criticism from Democrats that it
had caved in to political pressure.
But it was charges of persistent racism, particularly complaints of
racial epithets hurled at the student body president, who is black, that
sparked the strongest reactions, along with complaints that the
administration did not take the problem seriously enough.
Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said, “Tim Wolfe’s resignation was a
necessary step toward healing and reconciliation on the University of
Missouri campus, and I appreciate his decision to do so.”
Many of the students and faculty members who took part in demonstrations
had also been inspired by the protest movement sparked last year in
Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, after a white police officer there
killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, and they were experienced at
using social media in organizing. They saw themselves as part of a
continuum of activism linking Ferguson, other deaths at the hands of
police, protests on campuses around the country and the Black Lives
Mr. Wolfe, 57, was hired in 2012 from the corporate world, an outsider
brought in to cut costs in the four-campus system. That was no recipe
for popularity, but the last three months left him particularly
isolated. He announced his resignation just before a meeting of the
university’s governing body, the Board of Curators, amid speculation
that it might try to oust him.
Mr. Wolfe said he took responsibility for the anger and frustration on
campus, asserting that conversations with community leaders, students,
faculty, donors and others led him to his decision, more than just the
football players’ threatened boycott.
“What was starting to become clear was the frustration and anger was
evident, and it was something that needed to be done that was immediate
and substantial for us to heal,” Mr. Wolfe said at a news conference.
As the two resignations were announced, the Board of Curators unveiled a
slate of new initiatives to address racial tensions on campus, including
hiring a diversity, inclusion and equity officer for the entire
University of Missouri system. The university will also provide
additional support to students, faculty and staff members who experience
discrimination; create a task force to create plans for improving
diversity and inclusion; and require diversity and inclusion training
for all faculty, staff members and incoming students.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, praised the protests as
showing “that a few people speaking up and speaking out can have a
Officials said Mr. Loftin would remain at the university in a research role.
Opposition to the administration reached a peak in the last week. A
graduate student, Jonathan Butler, who was a veteran of the Ferguson
protests, held a highly publicized hunger strike, saying he would not
eat again until Mr. Wolfe was gone. Protesters formed an encampment on
campus. A coalition of Jewish groups told Mr. Loftin that they were
“dismayed” by his lack of action after a swastika was drawn on a
dormitory wall. Deans of nine of its schools called for Mr. Loftin’s
On Monday morning, the student government demanded Mr. Wolfe’s ouster,
and much of the faculty sent word to students that classes were canceled
for two days, in favor of a teach-in focused on race relations.
But it was the football team that may have dealt the fatal blow to the
university’s leaders, when players announced on Saturday that they would
refuse to play as long as the president remained in office, and their
head coach, Gary Pinkel, said he supported them. The prospect of a
strike by a team in the country’s most dominant college football league,
the Southeastern Conference, drew national attention, and officials said
that just forfeiting the team’s game Saturday against Brigham Young
University in Kansas City, Mo., would cost the university $1 million.
“That got the attention of the alumni and the board, along with a
substantial penalty they would have been facing,” said Representative
William Lacy Clay, a Democrat who represents part of the St. Louis area.
“That would have been a disaster for their recruiting of black athletes
and of black students to the university.”
Mr. Pinkel said the main concern of the players was Mr. Butler. “My
players deeply cared about this guy, and he was dying,” he said.
Though most players declined to speak Monday, a team captain, Ian Simon,
said in a statement that the players “just wanted to use our platform to
take a stance for a fellow concerned student on an issue.” He added, “We
love the game, but in end of the day, it is just that; a game.”
Thousands of students and faculty members gathered Monday morning at the
heart of the campus. At word of Mr. Wolfe’s resignation, some cheered,
others hugged and cried, a few danced, and Mr. Butler said he would eat
for the first time in a week.
The Board of Curators has the power to hire and fire top administrators,
and the curators are appointed by the governor. But Donald L. Cupps, a
member of the board, said Mr. Wolfe was not asked to leave, and resigned
out of concern for the university. “We have a national image to protect
and enhance,” he said.
Not everyone was pleased with the resignations. W. Dudley McCarter, a
former president of the university’s alumni group, said alumni, in calls
and emails on Monday, had expressed disappointment in Mr. Wolfe’s
decision. “They feel like he was backed into a corner and was made a
scapegoat for things he didn’t do,” Mr. McCarter said.
A series of racist incidents in the last few months spurred calls for
change. Protesters said that the president at first did not take their
complaints seriously, and that his later responses were not strong
enough or swift enough.
The president of the Missouri Students Association, Payton Head, who is
black, touched off the intense discussion of race in September when he
posted on Facebook that a group of men had yelled racial slurs at him,
and said it was not the first time he had suffered that kind of abuse at
the university. His post was shared thousands of times, and drew
In early October, the Legion of Black Collegians, a student group, was
rehearsing a homecoming event when a white man walked onto its stage and
used racial epithets. When activists tried to confront Mr. Wolfe days
later at the homecoming parade, he avoided them.
Later that month, the swastika was found, scrawled on a wall in feces.
An activist group, Concerned Student 1950 — a reference to the year the
university enrolled its first black student — was formed to demand that
the administration address what it said was pervasive racism.
Representative Clay, who is black, said he spoke with Mr. Wolfe on
Saturday about black students’ concerns and the health of Mr. Butler.
Even at that late date, the president was “kind of oblivious to the fact
that he was at the center of this,” Mr. Clay said.
Mr. Wolfe said on Sunday that “a systemwide diversity and inclusion
strategy” that addressed student concerns would be unveiled in April.
But that drew angry reactions from protesters as being too little, too late.
The controversies drew the attention of major donors; some feared damage
to the university’s standing and fund-raising.
“I think Tim Wolfe is a very competent leader, but there are three
things in crisis management that you have to do: Be abundantly honest,
you have to work quickly, and you have to control the message,” said Don
Walsworth, whose family has given the university millions of dollars.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think the university did that.”
After the announcement of Mr. Wolfe’s resignation, Mr. Butler told a
cheering crowd that the graduate students’ protests and the push against
racism were part of a larger cause, and cited the months of protests,
email campaigns and other actions calling for change on campus.
“It should not have taken this much, and it is disgusting and vile that
we find ourselves in the place that we do,” he said.
State officials said that behind the scenes, there had been growing
dissension among university leaders, and that Mr. Wolfe had wanted the
Board of Curators to fire Mr. Loftin, who became chancellor last year.
Michael A. Middleton, a deputy chancellor emeritus who was the
university’s first black law professor, had been involved in talks
between the administration and protesters over policy changes. Some on
campus said Mr. Wolfe was seen as stiff and aloof, and Mr. Middleton
said a confrontation between the president and students on Friday
outside a fund-raising event in Kansas City dealt a blow to those talks.
Still, as recently as Sunday night, Mr. Middleton said, Mr. Wolfe seemed
determined to stay on.
Mr. Wolfe moved to Columbia as a fourth-grade student, attended high
school here — he was the quarterback of its state championship football
team — and earned an undergraduate degree from Missouri, where his
father was a communications professor. He spent decades working at IBM,
and later was a senior executive at Novell.
He stepped into controversy almost as soon as he returned to the
university three years ago, withdrawing financial support from the
University of Missouri Press, then reversing course under fire. But last
year, when the Board of Curators voted to extend his contract to 2018,
the move was not controversial, said Don M. Downing, who was then the
“President Wolfe has thoughtfully transformed our strategic planning
process in a way that focuses our limited resources on priorities while
reducing or eliminating waste and redundancies,” said Mr. Downing, a
former chief deputy attorney general of Missouri, who no longer sits on
the board. But given recent events, he said, Mr. Wolfe’s position was
probably untenable, adding, “It’s a sad day.”
But many students were jubilant. “It was surreal — I don’t even know if
I’ve had enough time to fully process it,” Reuben Faloughi said. “I’m
happy my friend Jonathan survived, and I’m happy Tim Wolfe is no longer
in charge of the U.M. System.”
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