COLUMBIA, Mo. (CN) – Both the University of Missouri school president and chancellor are out as months of campus-wide racial tensions boiled over during the weekend.
Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin was forced out Monday after the deans of nine departments issued a letter demanding his resignation. Loftin delivered a statement during a Board of Curators meeting stating that he was leaving the chancellor’s position to transition to a “new role where I will work with many people across the university and with the system to advance our mission.”
Earlier Monday, University of Missouri System President Timothy W. Wolfe resigned under pressure.
Students had been critical of Wolfe’s handling of several racist incidents that had happened on campus in recent months. The campus-wide tension began in September when black student Payton Head, who is president of the student government, said he was racially abused while walking. Since then, a student yelled the N-word at members of the Legion of Black Collegians in a campus plaza and someone smeared feces in the shape of a swastika in a dorm room bathroom.
A graduate student named Jonathan Butler had been on a hunger strike in protest of Wolfe’s continued employment by the university, but it wasn’t until a group of black football players announced Saturday night that they would refuse to play until Wolfe either resigned or was fired that the story gained national headlines.
With Wolfe’s resignation, Butler announced on Twitter that “ The #MizzouHungerStrike is officially over! ” The entire football team is also expected to practice Tuesday in preparation for Saturday’s game against Brigham Young University.
In an emotional, nationally-televised statement, Wolfe took full responsibility for the inaction that occurred regarding the racist incidents. He said he hopes that the University of Missouri community uses his resignation to heal and start talking again.
But Wolfe also took a swipe at the protesters by saying, “This is not, I repeat not, the way change should come about. Change should come about from listening, learning, caring and conversation.”
Within minutes of Wolfe’s resignation, thousands of students from various ethnic backgrounds gathered at the Carnahan Quadrangle, which has been the scene of many of the recent protests organized by Concerned Student 1950. The group is named after the first year that black students were admitted to the school.
Members of the group celebrated and shouted, “They said we couldn’t do this,” and “I believe we have won.”
Group members initially refused to speak with reporters, saying they “want to control the narrative,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, and a photographer was pushed back when he tried to enter the circle the group created.
Shortly after 1 p.m., Concerned Student 1950 held a press conference, where members demanded a meeting with the governor, board of curators and faculty counsel to discuss shared governance and a system of inclusion.
Shelbey Parnell, a Concerned Student 1950 member, told the Post-Dispatch that Wolfe was a very reactionary leader. “While he was in his position, he was a business man and that’s why we needed him out,” Parnell said. “We need an educator where an educator is supposed to be.”
In a statement, Gov. Jay Nixon called Wolfe’s resignation “a necessary step toward healing and reconciliation on the University of Missouri campus.”
“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 statement said.
The deans’ complaints about Loftin go even further than the racial tension on campus that has festered under his watch. In the letter, the deans were also critical of how the university tried to scale back tuition waivers for graduate students and strip them of their health insurance subsidies. The university reinstated the subsidies and agreed to leave the tuition waivers in place or a year in response to a public outcry. The Columbia Daily Tribune reported that the letter accused Loftin of creating a “toxic environment through threat, fear and intimidation.”
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