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University of Missouri chancellor also resigns after protests over systemic racism
The University of Missouri’s chancellor has resigned just six hours after the president stepped down in the midst of protests over the way they have dealt with racism on campus.
Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced on Monday afternoon he would be ‘transitioning’ to a new role in the new year following complaints from students that racial slurs and discrimination are common.
He followed President Tim Wolfe, who quit after he was accused of failing to deal with ‘systematic racism’ after students staged demonstrations following acts of vandalism in college dorms – including the smearing of a swastika in human feces on a wall.
Their resignations came as head football coach Gary Pinkel revealed that he backed his players’ boycott because a ‘young man’s life was on the line’.
He was referring to Jonathan Butler, the graduate student who was on a hunger strike announced Wolfe announced he was resigning.
University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin (pictured right talking to a student on campus) announced on Monday afternoon he would be ‘transitioning’ to a new role in the new year following complaints from students that racial slurs and discrimination are common.
Pinkel told a press conference: ‘I got involved because I support my players and a certain young man’s life was on the line. Our team is excited about getting going again and we’re looking forward to BYU.’
‘We wanted to play the football game (against BYU), but it was about this young man.’
If the boycott had continued to Saturday’s game, which is being played at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs, the unversity would have lost millions of dollars.
Tim Wolfe said Monday at a special meeting of the system’s governing board that he takes ‘full responsibility for the frustration’ students had expressed regarding racial issues and that it ‘is clear’ and ‘real.’
In a brief statement given to the media at the meeting, Wolfe said that his decision to resign came ‘out of love, not hate’ and that he hopes the university can ‘move forward together’.
He asked that his resignation be used as a way for students and staff to come together and tackle the issues.
‘We have to stop yelling and stop intimidating each other,’ he said.
Loftin announced that he would be moving to a research role within the university at the end of a curators meeting on Monday.
The board also announced the university would be hiring its first equality and diversity officer and will review all policies related to staff and student conduct.
Hank Foley, MU senior vice chancellor for research and graduate studies, also said additional support will be available for students, faculty and staff who have experienced discrimination and disparate treatment.
They are also aiming to hire a more diverse staff.
Black student groups have been complaining for months about racial slurs and other slights on the system’s overwhelmingly white flagship campus in Columbia.
Butler, whose hunger strike began November 2, appeared weak and unsteady as two people helped him past a human chain and into a sea of celebrants. Many broke into dance at seeing him.
The group’s efforts got a boost over the weekend when 30 black football players announced they wouldn’t participate in team activities until Wolfe was removed.
‘The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe “Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,”‘ the players said in a statement. ‘We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!’
Head football coach Gary Pinkel expressed solidarity on Twitter, posting a picture of the team and coaches locking arms. The tweet said: ‘The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.’
Frustrations flared during a homecoming parade on October 10 when black protesters blocked system President Tim Wolfe’s car and he would not get out and talk to them. They were removed by police.
By Sunday, a campus sit-in had grown in size, graduate student groups planned walk outs and politicians began to weigh in.
The protests began after the student government president, who is black, said in September that people in a passing pickup truck shouted racial slurs at him. In early October, members of a black student organization said slurs were hurled at them by an apparently drunken white student.
Also, a swastika drawn in feces was found recently in a dormitory bathroom.
Many of the protests have been led by an organization called Concerned Student 1950, which gets its name from the year the university accepted its first black student. Its members besieged Wolfe’s car at the parade, and they have been conducting a sit-in on a campus plaza since last Monday.
On one point Sunday afternoon, two trucks flying Confederate flags drove past the site, a move many saw as an attempt at intimidation.
At least 150 students gathered at the plaza Sunday night to pray, sing and read Bible verses, a larger crowd than on previous days. Many planned to camp there overnight amid temperatures that had dropped into the upper 30s.
One of the sit-in participants, Abigail Hollis, a black undergraduate, said the campus is ‘unhealthy and unsafe for us.’
‘The way white students are treated is in stark contrast to the way black students and other marginalized students are treated, and it’s time to stop that,’ Hollis said. ‘It’s 2015.’
Columbia is about 120 miles west of Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb where tensions erupted over the shooting death of unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown last year by a white police officer.
The school’s undergraduate population is 79 per cent white and 8 per cent black. The state is about 83 per cent white and nearly 12 per cent black.
Wolfe, 56, is a former software executive and Missouri business school graduate whose father taught at the university. He was hired in 2011 as president, succeeding another former business executive who also lacked experience in academia.
Already, at Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s request, the university announced plans to require diversity training for all new students starting in January, along with faculty and staff.
Lawmakers and elected officials began to weigh in Sunday. The chairman of a Missouri House higher education committee, Poplar Bluff Republican Rep. Steven Cookson, said in a statement that Wolfe ‘can no longer effectively lead’ and should leave his post.
Joining him in calling for Wolfe’s resignation was Assistant House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, the highest-ranking black member of that chamber.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said the university must address the concerns so that the school is ‘a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion.’
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri graduate, said the governing board needs to ‘send a clear message’ to the students at the Columbia campus that they’ll address racism.
The racial issues are just the latest controversy at the university in recent months, following the suspension of graduate students’ health care subsidies and an end to university contracts with a Planned Parenthood clinic that performs abortions.