University of Missouri racism walkout leads to president resigning

The president of the University of Missouri resigned Monday after faculty joined the football team and students in the walkout over racism on campus.

(Sarah Bell/Missourian via AP)
On Saturday, members of the Concerned Student 1950 and the Legion of Black Collegians link arms during a protest in Mark Twain Dining Hall the University of Missouri campus, in Columbia, Mo. Some campus groups have been protesting the way university president Tim Wolfe has dealt with issues of racial harassment during the school year. Jonathan Butler, a black graduate student, is on a hunger strike to call attention to the issue. Missouri football players announced Saturday night on Twitter that they will not participate in team activities until the university president is removed from office.

[UPDATE: The Associated Press reports that University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe has resigned amid criticism of his handling of racial issues.]

With one student on a hunger strike, a growing crowd camped out in the center of campus, and professors and star athletes supporting their cause, protests over incidents of racism at the University of Missouri now have national attention.

The sudden surge in public outcry – some coming from the state government – could now cost the president of the four-college system his job.

After weeks of sidestepping student questions about a string of racist incidents on campus – including several black students being targeted with racial slurs and a swastika drawn in feces in a dormitory bathroom – the prospect of a significant financial loss could be the last straw for state system President Tim Wolfe.

Student protesters say they have been trying to get Mr. Wolfe's attention for months.

Frustrations flared during a homecoming parade Oct. 10 when black protesters blocked his car and he would not get out to talk with them. On Nov. 2, graduate student Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike which he has said will not end until Wolfe is gone. And on Friday night the president angered protesters even further when, after stepping out of a fundraiser, he was caught on video seeming to dismiss their questions about oppression on campus.

On Saturday, the protests gained national attention as players on the University of Missouri football team, including several stars, announced that they are joining the protests.

"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’ experiences," they wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. The next day the head football coach, Gary Pinkel, expressed solidarity in his own tweet.

The prospect of a boycott from the university's  lucrative football team appears to have got the attention of both state politicians and the university’s board of curators, the system’s governing body.

If the boycott doesn't end in time for the team's next game – against Brigham Young University on Saturday – the will forfeit $1 million for breaking a contract between the two colleges.

Wolfe hasn’t indicated he will resign, saying in a statement Sunday afternoon that "change is needed."

"My administration has been meeting around the clock," he added. "Clearly, we are listening to all sides, and are confident we can come together to improve the student experience on our campuses."

But pressure is building around him. The board of curators is holding a special closed-door meeting on Monday morning, and on Sunday the state’s top legislator on education called for Wolfe to step down.

"It has become clear that the MU system leadership can no longer effectively lead and should step aside," said Rep. Steve Cookson, Republican chairman of the Missouri House Committee on Higher Education, according to the Missouri Times.

Rep. Caleb Jones, a Republican who represents the district that is home to the university's flagship Columbia campus, added: "The lack of leadership Mizzou has been dealing with for months has finally reached the point of being a national embarrassment."

Meanwhile, a university faculty group has urged professors to walk out of classes on Monday and stage a "teach-in" at a growing student sit-in at Carnahan Quadrangle in the heart of the Columbia campus.

Abigail Hollis, a black undergraduate participating in the sit-in, 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," she added. "It's 2015."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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