Amidst Growing Uprising Over Campus Racial Strife, Univ. Of Missouri President Steps Down

Tim Wolfe
University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe announced his resignation at a Board of Curators meeting on Monday. The embattled president was unable to quell a student uprising that had been escalating for months over the university’s indifference to racism on campus.

As head of the University of Missouri system, Wolfe personified that indifference. When protesters tried to get his attention at the university’s homecoming parade, Wolfe’s driver revved the engine and bumped the car into one of the protesters, while Wolfe ignored them.

When students asked Wolfe outside a Kansas City fundraiser, to define systematic oppression, Wolfe responded with a blame the victim response, stating:

Systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.

Wolfe was too tone deaf to deal with a campus in a state of crisis over a series of incidents where black students were subjected to harassment and racial slurs. The most highly publicized occurrence happened on October 24th, when a swastika was scrawled in human feces on a bathroom wall in Gateway Hall, a campus dormitory.

On Monday, November 2nd, MU graduate student Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike, vowing to continue until either Wolfe resigned or Butler died of starvation. Butler, along with other members of the activist group “Concerned Student 1950” (named for the year the university first admitted black students) set up a tent city on campus.

As other student groups and faculty groups joined in supporting the protests, Wolfe’s job appeared increasingly less secure. On Sunday, the Missouri Students Association penned a letter to the Board of Curators calling for Wolfe’s ouster. However, it may have been the decision of many black athletes on the football team to stop playing, that was the tipping point in getting Wolfe to step down.

Once the black athletes announced they did not intend to play until Butler’s hunger strike ended, and they did so with the apparent support of their coaching staff, the economic impact of the protest was added to the psychological impact. If Missouri had needed to cancel its upcoming game with BYU, it would have cost them one million dollars, and the university would have taken a big hit in institutional prestige as well.

Wolfe’s resignation demonstrates that activists can effect positive change if they are focused and determined to do so. His resignation does not instantly resolve MU’s racial problems, but it is an important and highly symbolic step that can begin the process of healing, and force constructive change going forward. Wolfe’s departure will not end the protests at the University of Missouri, where there is still much work to do. However, it does represent a new beginning. It also means that Jonathan Butler can start eating again, so he can be healthy for the ongoing battles that are still to come.

Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master's Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick's successful re-election bid in Arizona's 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.

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