By Grace Deitzler, News Writer
Just six hours after University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation, MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced his own resignation from the position of Chancellor, effective at the end of this year.
Pressure for Wolfe and Loftin to step down has been building due to the administration’s poor handling of recent events surrounding racial issues. Though tensions had been rising since the events in Ferguson last year, the boiling point was reached earlier this semester when racial slurs were directed towards student body president Payton Head. Following this, the Legion of Black Collegiates was rehearsing a homecoming play and were verbally assaulted by a white man interrupting their rehearsal and yelling racial slurs at the students.
Tim Wolfe, left, and R. Bowen Loftin, right.
A group of student activists, calling themselves Concerned Student 1950 after the first year that a Black student was admitted to the university, demonstrated at the homecoming parade and protested Wolfe’s failure to properly address such events, which are not isolated incidences: many MU students have reported being the target of racial slurs multiple times during their time at the university.”We disrupted the parade specifically in front of Tim Wolfe because we need him to get our message,” said Jonathan Butler, one of protesters. “We’ve sent emails, we’ve sent tweets, we’ve messaged but we’ve gotten no response back from the upper officials at Mizzou to really make change on this campus. And so we directed it to him personally. That we are here. We want to make our presence known, that we are here and we deserve respect, we deserve humanity.” Reports say that students blocked a red car that Wolfe was riding in, singing protest songs, making speeches and demanding answers. In his impatience to continue with the parade, Wolfe’s driver allegedly hit a protester. Wolfe did not address the event until weeks later. On October 8th, Loftin announced the introduction of mandatory online diversity training, which activists say is a step in the right direction, but not enough action to fully address and change the racial climate on the MU campus. Concerned Student 1950 has since released a list of demands and ideas for enacting concrete, sustainable change, including actions such as implementing a curriculum focusing on comprehensive racial awareness, led by students, faculty and staff of color. Increasing funding and resources for boosting mental health support for students of color was also included on the list.
Later in the month, following the discovery of a swastika drawn in feces in a dormitory bathroom, a coalition of Jewish students also condemned administration, saying they were “dismayed” at Loftin’s lack of action. Butler, a graduate student and Concerned Student 1950 activist, announced a highly publicized hunger strike earlier last week, calling for the immediate removal of Wolfe as president.
The deans of nine different MU colleges wrote a letter to the Board of Curators and Mr. Wolfe on Monday, asking for the removal of Loftin as Chancellor and expressing their concerns about the administration’s handling of the current situation on campus.
“The demoralizing campus climate under his lack of leadership is no longer conducive to our fundamental duties of teaching, research and service,” the letter said. “We believe that the only way out of this impasse is to find a new Chancellor who … will find the resources needed to increase rather than dismantle the excellence of our institution.”
The deans said Loftin’s failure in leadership also stems from the withdrawal of health insurance for graduate student research and teaching assistants back in August. Though the decision was reversed, it sparked demonstrations and action among students affected by the decision as well as students already concerned with other systemic issues, including racism. In the following month, MU made the highly controversial decision to sever existing ties to Planned Parenthood, ties which allowed medical and nursing students to receive training on some procedures available through Planned Parenthood. In addition to the letter from the deans, two departments on campus, the English Department and the Romance Languages Department, sent in votes of no confidence in Loftin to the Board of Curators.
It was the involvement of members of the Mizzou football team, of which more than 30 Black students announced they would not participate in team activities including games, that seemed to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. An upcoming game with Brigham Young University could have cost the university at least $1 million had the events lead to cancellation. Coach Gary Pinkel announced Sunday his support of the team in a statement and a tweet that quickly went viral.
Tim Wolfe announced his resignation on Monday morning, with chancellor Loftin following hours later. While these two men may not be personally responsible for the racial tensions and climate on the MU campus, it is important to remember that they are in high-paid positions of leadership and it is their prerogative to address the concerns of students and faculty, especially when multiple student groups and departments are expressing these concerns, in a swift and concrete manner. Student activists said the resignations represent “change”, however, they want to ensure that the steps moving forward to hire replacements are in the right direction and that those in charge listen to the voices and concerns of the campus.
The Board of Curators has already announced changes including the institution of the new position of Chief Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Officer, a review of existing policies, and additional support for those who have experienced discrimination or racism.
Chancellor Schrader, of Missouri S&T, sent an email to students on Monday night, in which she stated her and the university’s commitment to facilitating an environment where all students have the opportunity to learn without barriers. “Diversity and inclusion form the core of Missouri S&T’s strategic plan. Until we address and eliminate systemic barriers to diversity and inclusion, we will not succeed in achieving our ambitious goals. It’s on all of us – myself and my leadership team, you and your fellow students, our faculty and staff, and our alumni – to ensure that we succeed in eliminating racism from Missouri S&T.”