University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe has resigned over his handling of a series of racist incidents on the college’s Columbia campus.
Wolfe was pressured to step down after the school’s football team announced it would boycott all football activities until he was removed from office. Another student went on a hunger strike for several days, saying he would not eat until Wolfe was no longer president.
Wolfe, 57, announced his resignation Monday morning at a press conference, saying he takes “I take full responsibility for the inaction.” Watch video of his resignation here.
The controversy began in September when Payton Head, the Students Association President, said he was called a “n****r” by a group of men in a pickup truck while on campus.
On October 5, a drunk student went onto a stage where the Legion of Black Collegians was rehearsing a homecoming skit and screamed racial epithets, the Kansas City Star reports. On October 10, during the school’s homecoming parade, a group of students, called Concerned Student 1950 (a reference to the year black students were first admitted to the 176-year-old university), surrounded Wolfe’s car and demanded he speak with them. Wolfe had police remove them from the parade route, the newspaper reports.
On October 24, a student “scrawled a swastika in human feces on the floor and wall of a dormitory,” according to the Star. Jonathan Butler, a graduate student among the Concerned Student 1950 group, then went on a hunger strike. On Sunday, the football team announced it would not be taking part in any football-related activities until Wolfe resigns or is removed.
Here’s what you need to know about Wolfe and the controversy:
1. Wolfe Says Resigning Is ‘the Right Thing to Do’
After spending Sunday meeting with officials, Wolfe said he is resigning because it is “the right thing to do.” He said he hopes the university can use his resignation to heal.
Wolfe issued a statement Sunday afternoon that did not indicate any plans to step down from his position.
“It is clear to all of us that change is needed, and we appreciate the thoughtfulness and passion which have gone into the sharing of concerns,” Wolfe said. “My administration has been meeting around the clock and has been doing a tremendous amount of reflection on how to address these complex matters. Clearly, we are open to listening to all sides, and are confident that we can come together to improve the student experience on our campuses. We want to find the best way to get everyone around the table and create the safe space for a meaningful conversation that promotes change. We will share next steps as soon as they are confirmed.”
Wolfe added that the university has already began work on a “systemwide diversity and inclusion strategy, plan and metrics for the University System,” as part of his strategic goals approved in the summer.
“Our due date for announcing the strategy was April 2016, having allowed for multiple stakeholders (e.g., faculty, staff, students, consultants) across the system to provide input into the plan,” Wolfe said.
Concerned Student 1950 has issued a list of demands:
Wolfe said Sunday, “The majority of items listed on the Concerned Student 1950 List of Demands were already included in the draft of the strategy. While the student list provides more detail and more specific metrics than had been established in the UM System plan, we had anticipated providing specificity and detail to the plan over the coming months.
“In the meantime, I am dedicated to ongoing dialogue to address these very complex, societal issues as they affect our campus community,” Wolfe said.
Students at the University of Missouri quickly grew frustrated with the response to their outrage at the racial incidents on campus. Several protests calling for his resignation or firing have been organized on campus. Anger with Wolfe grew Friday night, when he spoke with students in Kansas City.
The interaction was recorded on video (which you can watch below). It starts after the students asked him a question, and he replies, “I will give you an answer, and I’m sure it will be a wrong answer.”
He then told the students, “Systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success,” and then walked away as the students reacted negatively.
“Did you just blame us for systematic oppression, Tim Wolfe?,” one student screamed after him.
2. He Has Apologized to How He Reacted to Protesting Students at the School’s Homecoming
Wolfe has also been criticized for how he reacted when he was confronted by students during the university’s homecoming parade. That was also recorded. A group of students blocked the parade route, demanding Wolfe speak with them. Instead, Wolfe had university police remove the students from the parade route.
Wolfe issued a statement two days ago, several weeks after the incident:
I regret my reaction at the MU homecoming parade when the ConcernedStudent1950 group approached my car. I am sorry, and my apology is long overdue. My behavior seemed like I did not care. That was not my intention. I was caught off guard in that moment. Nonetheless, had I gotten out of the car to acknowledge the students and talk with them perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today. I am asking us to move forward in addressing the racism that exists at our university – and it does exist. Together we must rise to the challenge of combatting racism, injustice, and intolerance.
3. He Met With the Hunger-Striking Student Last Week
Wolfe said in a statement:
Today I again had the opportunity to meet with MU graduate student Jonathan Butler who continues a hunger strike protesting the inequalities, inequities, and obstacles faced by students, faculty and staff at the University of Missouri. I am very concerned about Jonathan’s health. His voice for social justice is important and powerful. He is being heard and I am listening. I am thankful for the leadership provided by him and the other student leaders in raising awareness of racism, injustice, and intolerance. This afternoon I also met with representatives of several student groups and I value their input and hear their voices.
Racism does exist at our university and it is unacceptable. It is a long-standing, systemic problem which daily affects our family of students, faculty and staff. I am sorry this is the case. I truly want all members of our university community to feel included, valued and safe.
Butler has said he is willing to die of starvation.
Read more about Butler and his hunger strike at the link below:
4. Black Members of the Football Team Say Wolfe Showed ‘Negligence Toward Marginalized Students’ Experiences’
The spotlight on Wolfe and the racist incidents at Missouri was turned up Saturday night when more than 30 black members of the university’s football team announced they would be boycotting all football-related activities until Wolfe is fired or resigns.
The football players said in a statement posted on social media, “The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere’ We will no longer participate in any football related activities until Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized student’ experiences. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!”
The team’s head coach, Gary Pinkel, and white members of the football team said Sunday morning they are supporting the striking players.
5. Wolfe Has Been the Public University’s President Since 2012 After Working in the Computer Industry
Wolfe was hired by the University of Missouri in 2012. He oversees the four-campus University of Missouri system, which serves more than 77,000 students and is one of the largest public research university stems in the country.
According to his biography on the university’s website, Wolfe spent 30 years in the business world before being hired by Missouri. He worked at IBM as a sales representative and manager, and then became a vice president. He was later the president of Novell, an infrastructure software company.
He grew up in Columbia, Missouri, and graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in business. He and his wife, Molly, have two children, a daughter, Madison, and a son, Tyler.
Wolfe earned $459,000 in 2014-15, according to a database of employee salaries compiled by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.