UM president resigns amid criticism of handling of racial issues

Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune

COLUMBIA — Tim Wolfe resigned from his position as University of Missouri system president today in a Board of Curators meeting at the university’s Old Alumni Center amid protests of his handling of racist incidents at the university during the past 90 days.

With Wolfe’s announcement, the hunger strike of graduate student Jonathan Butler ended. Butler announced the end by a tweet at 10:36 a.m. today. Wolfe’s resignation comes on the heels of the school’s football team striking in support of Butler and university staff had planned a walkout today and Tuesday in support of Butler and student activist group Concerned Student 1950.

In response to Wolfe’s resignation, Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement: “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. There’s more work to do, and now the University of Missouri must move forward — united by a commitment to excellence, and respect and tolerance for all. The University of Missouri is an outstanding institution that will continue to play a vital role in our efforts to provide a world class education to every Missouri student.”

Wolfe acknowledged the various protest groups, saying “the frustration and anger that I see is clear, real, and I don’t doubt it for a second.”

“It is my belief we stopped listening to each other,” Wolfe said. “We didn’t respond or react. We got frustrated, and we forced individuals like Jonathan Butler to take immediate action and unusual steps to effect change. … I take full responsibility for this frustration, and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred.”

Butler had been on strike since Nov. 2, and said he would not eat until Wolfe was removed from office. Butler was critical of the university’s response to racist events on campus this fall, including verbal assaults and a swastika being drawn in feces on a dormitory wall. Butler also criticized the university’s recent handling of health insurance for graduate students and removal of Planned Parenthood privileges.

Butler’s father is expected to meet with the board today.

Wolfe, whose statement came before the board went into a closed session, said he hoped his resignation would facilitate change and that the focus would be placed on the future instead of the past.

“We need to use my resignation — please, please use this resignation to heal not to hate, and let’s move forward together for a brighter tomorrow. God bless all of you and thank you for this wonderful opportunity to have led the University of Missouri.”

State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, attended the meeting, and said she was “excited” about Wolfe’s resignation.

“We have to keep in mind of what President Wolfe said,” said Chappelle-Nadal, who met with Wolfe before the board meeting. “Use this resignation for healing. And we can’t afford to Band-Aid this any more. The students knew exactly the trigger point. They pushed it.”

Wolfe’s resignation was one in a list of eight demands made by Concerned Student 1950. Chappelle-Nadal said her focus now was on the other demands, especially the seventh, which asks for increased mental health funding at the university, and an increase in mental health professionals of color.

The other six demands were:

• A handwritten apology from Wolfe, to be read at the Missouri Student Center. The letter is to include an acknowledgement by Wolfe of his white male privilege, recognition of systems of oppression, and a commitment to fulfilling the group’s demands. Concerned Student 1950 also demanded Wolfe admit negligence in response to racist events on campus, and that he was wrong in handling the group’s protest at last month’s Homecoming parade.

• That the university meet the Legion of Black Collegians’ demands presented in 1969.

• That the university creates and enforces a mandatory racial awareness curriculum, vetted by a board of students and staff of color.

• That the university increase the percentage of black faculty and staff to 10 percent by the academic year 2017-18.

• That the university composes a 10-year plan by May 2016 for increasing retention rate of minorities, sustaining a diversity curriculum and fostering an inclusive campus.

• That the university increase funding and resources for on-campus social justice centers.

After Wolfe’s announcement, multiple members of the football team tweeted they would be returning to their football activities. The team announced in a statement Sunday they would not be practicing until Butler resumed eating.

A statement from director of athletics Mack Rhoades and football coach Gary Pinkel released at 12:05 p.m. Monday announced the team was returning to football activities.

“The primary concern of our student-athletes, coaches and staff has been centered on the health of Jonathan Butler and working with campus leaders to find a resolution that would save a life,” the statement said. “We are hopeful we can begin a process of healing and understanding on our campus.”

None of the team’s statements mentioned Wolfe or his status as system president.

Anthony Sherrils was the first player to tweet a photo and message Saturday announcing black players’ boycott of football-related activities until Wolfe was removed from office. Sherrils tweeted Monday, “The goal was lunchtime Monday!!! #ConcernedStudent1950.”

Chappelle-Nadal said Wolfe’s resignation would not have happened “if it was not for the stance of the football team.”

“That’s the golden calf,” she said of the team. “It’s everything. People come from all over the state to tailgate, to support their football team and their basketball teams. I know as a legislator for 11 years now that that has been the case. You don’t touch Mizzou. There’s punishment if you touch Mizzou. Well, the students had the control this time.”

Below are Wolfe’s full statements from his resignation:

“My motivation in making this decision comes from love. I love MU, Columbia, where I grew up, and the state of Missouri. I’ve thought and prayed about this decision. It’s the right thing to do.

“The response to this announcement I’m sure ranges from joy for some to anger for others, and that’s why we’re here today.

“So let me speak to why this is so important at this time.

“To our students from Concerned Student 1950 to our grad students, football players and other students, the frustration and anger that I see is clear, real, and I don’t doubt it for a second. The faculty and staff have expressed their anger, their frustration. It, too, is real.

“To my friends and my supporters that have been so gracious and have sent so many emails and texts and calls of support. I understand that you might be frustrated as well.

“So the question really is, why did we get to this very difficult situation? It is my belief we stopped listening to each other. We didn’t respond or react. We got frustrated, and we forced individuals like Jonathan Butler to take immediate action and unusual steps to effect change.

“This is not, I repeat not, the way change should come about. Change comes from listening, learning, caring and conversation, and we have to respect each other enough to stop yelling at each other and start listening and quit intimidating through either our role or whatever means we decide to use. Unfortunately this has not happened, and that is why I stand before today, and I take full responsibility for this frustration, and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred.

“I’d ask everybody, from students and faculty to staff, friends, everybody to use my resignation to heal and start talking again, to make the changes necessary. And let’s focus on changing what we can change today and in the future, not what what we can’t change, which is what happened in the past. I truly love everybody here and the great institution and my decision to resign comes out of love, not hate.

“I’d like to read some scripture that’s given me strength. I hope it provides you with some strength as well, as we think about what’s next. I have to also give credit to my daughter for reminding me of the scripture. Psalm 46:1: ‘God is our refuge and strength and ever present in trouble.’

“We need to use my resignation — please, please use this resignation to heal not to hate, and let’s move forward together for a brighter tomorrow. God bless all of you and thank you for this wonderful opportunity to have led the University of Missouri.”

Original: http://www.newstribune.com/news/2015/nov/09/university-missouri-system-president-resigns-amid-/

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