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Amid racial controversies, UM system president and Mizzou chancellor step down

Tim Wolfe delivers a statement on Nov. 9 announcing that he will resign.
UM System YouTube Screen Capture
Tim Wolfe delivers a statement on Nov. 9 announcing that he will resign.

Updated at 5 p.m. with news of Loftin's resignation - University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe abruptly announced his resignation Monday morning amid strong criticism of his leadership in handling issues of race. Several hours later, R. Bowen Loftin said he would be leaving his post as chancellor of the system's Columbia campus to coordinate university research.

The two moves culminated a frenetic few days in which protests in Columbia grew to include a pledge by the football team not to play a game this weekend. That move, backed by the team's coach and the campus athletic director, seemed to move the issue toward the resolutions announced Monday after a hastily called meeting of the Board of Curators.

A statement released by the system late Monday named Hank Foley, who guides research for both the system and the Columbia campus, as interim chancellor at Mizzou. An interim system president would be named as soon as possible, the statement said.

Monday evening, the curators came out of a lengthy closed-door meeting to announce initiatives to be put into place over the next 90 days, including establishing a system-wide officer in charge of diversity, inclusion and equity. They are also calling for a similar position to be filled on each campus.

The curators also announced:

  • A review of all system policies relating to staff and student conduct.
  • More support for students, faculty and staff who have experienced discrimination.
  • More support for the hiring and retention of diverse faculty and staff.

The board also revealed more actions designed "to ensure effective next steps through an open communication process that invites perspective from across the system." These include:

  • A task force on diversity, inclusion and equity that will develop strategy for the short and long term based on a review of current programs, policies and practices.
  • A leadership training and development program on diversity, inclusion and equity, which will include the curators, the president and top administrators.
  • At Mizzou, there will be mandatory diversity, including equity training for all faculty, staff and incoming students.
  • A continued review of student mental health services on the Columbia campus.

In a press release, Donald L. Cupps, chair of the University of Missouri Board of Curators made the following statement in reaction to the resignations: 
“As a board, we have taken an oath to maintain the standard of excellence and source of pride that the University of Missouri is for all Missourians. We are committed to keeping the institution and our state moving forward,” said Cupps.“It saddens me that some who have attended our university have ever felt fear, being unwelcome, or have experienced racism.”

Listening and learning
Before the curators went into their closed meeting, Wolfe announced his resignation. He said his decision was made out of love for the university and for Columbia, where he grew up.

Citing the unrest that has gripped the Mizzou campus for the past week, including a hunger strike by graduate student Jonathan Butler, Wolfe said he understands the frustration on the part of students, faculty, staff and others.

"The question really is: why did we get to this very difficult situation?" Wolfe said, his face stern, yet sad. "It is my belief we stopped listening to each other. We didn't respond or react. We got frustrated with each other, 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."

Saying that he takes full responsibility for the "frustration and inaction that has occurred," Wolfe asked everyone to "use my resignation to heal and start talking again, to make the changes necessary. ... Please use this resignation to heal, not to hate."

In the statement released by the system Loftin said:
"I hope that every member of our campus community will embrace each person's right to express their opinions in a respectful manner and to make progress toward our common goal of an inclusive campus that values the contributions of all individuals. I am excited for my new challenge to lead the university's research facility development."

Wolfe's resignation comes after members of the Mizzou football team said Saturday night they would not participate in any football-related activities until Wolfe was removed or resigned. The team members' action was in support of a student holding a hunger strike to protest Wolfe's leadership on racial issues.

Butler tweeted Monday morning that he was ending his hunger strike following Wolfe's resignation.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon issued the following statement on Wolfe's resignation: 

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 is 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.

Here's more background on the situation from an NPR report Sunday:

The football players said that they were standing in solidarity with the Concerned Student 1950 movement, which has for months now called on the university to seriously address systemic racism on campus.

The team tweeted a picture of the student athletes linking arms. "We are no longer taking it," the tweet said. "It's time to fight."

For months, now, black students at Mizzou have documented a series of incidents in which they were accosted with racial epithets. In the most notorious incident, a swastika was drawn on the bathroom wall of one of the dorms using feces.

In October, black students staged a protest along the homecoming parade route. They formed a chain in front of the president's car chanting, "It's our duty to fight for our freedom!"

Wolfe said nothing to the students and when police removed the students from the street, the crowd erupted in applause. Some of the protesters cried.

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Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.