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University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigns amid race row

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(CNN) — Tim Wolfe, president of the University of Missouri System, is resigning from his post amid a controversy regarding race relations at the school, he announced in a Monday news conference.

Saying he takes “full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred,” he asked that the university community listen to each other’s problems and “stop intimidating each other.”

“This is not — I repeat, not — the way change should come about. Change comes from listening, learning, caring and conversation,” he said. “Use my resignation to heal and start talking again.”

His decision, he said, “came out of love, not hate,” and he urged the university to “focus on what we can change” in the future, not what’s happened in the past.

His decision came after black football players at the University of Missouri — with their coach’s support — threatened not to practice or play again until graduate student Jonathan Butler ended his hunger strike. Butler, who is protesting the state of race relations on the main campus and had demanded Wolfe’s removal, tweeted Monday morning, “My body is tired but my heart is strong. This fight for justice is necessary.”

He later tweeted that he had ended his hunger strike.

If the Tigers fail to take the field against the Brigham Young University Cougars at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday, the team will be forced to pay a cancellation fee of $1 million, according to a copy of the contract published in The Kansas City Star earlier this year.

About 30 players made their thoughts known Saturday night in a tweet posted by Missouri’s Legion of Black Collegians.

“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,’ ” read the tweet. “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’ experience.”

The players’ move is the latest salvo in a spiraling debate over the experiences of African-American students at Missouri, who have complained of inaction on the part of school leaders in dealing with racism on the overwhelmingly white Columbia campus.

Black student leaders have complained of students openly using racial slurs and other incidents. In August, someone used feces to draw a swastika, drawing condemnation from black and Jewish student organizations.

Butler started his hunger strike last week, demanding Wolfe’s removal. He wrote Missouri officials that “students are not able to achieve their full academic potential because of the inequalities and obstacles they face,” according to the Missourian newspaper in Columbia. “In each of these scenarios, Mr. Wolfe had ample opportunity to create policies and reform that could shift the culture of Mizzou in a positive direction, but in each scenario, he failed to do so.”

On Sunday, Butler accused the school’s leadership of not caring for the student body.

“I’m in this because it’s that serious. We’re dealing with humanity here. And at this point, we can’t afford to continue to work with individuals who just don’t care for their constituents,” he told CNN.

“Regardless of what happens with my life, people are really starting these conversations that are necessary and that’s what’s going to bring about the change in the long term,” Butler said.

It’s not clear what repercussions, if any, could come to the football players if they refuse to play in Missouri’s next football game against Brigham Young University on November 14. Some have called for the students to lose their scholarships.

The school’s athletics department said Saturday that it supports the right of student athletes to “tackle these challenging issues.”

Head football coach Gary Pinkel seemed to be more direct, tweeting a photo Sunday of dozens of white and black students standing arm in arm with the message, “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon insisted Friday that the issues must be addressed. Wolfe agreed, but he at first appeared unwilling to give in to demands that he resign, saying in a statement Sunday that he was “dedicated to ongoing dialogue to address these very complex, societal issues.”

“We are tired of dialogue! We want action,” the student group behind much of the protest, Concerned Student 1950, tweeted Friday.

The group’s name refers to the date African-American students were first admitted to the university.

The long-simmering discussion began to boil over this fall, when the African-American student body president spoke out about racism on campus, according to media reports.

Later, a group of African-American students complained that a school safety officer didn’t more aggressively pursue an apparently drunken white student who disrupted their gathering and used a racial slur in addressing them.

African-American students then disrupted the school’s homecoming parade on October 10, blocking Wolfe’s car in a protest calling for greater action on the part of administrators.

They accused Wolfe of looking on impassively and said his car struck one of the protesters. No one was injured, but protesters accused police of using excessive force to disperse protesters.

The top official at the Missouri campus, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, ordered mandatory sensitivity training for faculty and students, and Wolfe later apologized.

“Racism does exist at our university, and it is unacceptable,” he said.

African-American students said the gestures were insufficient and called for school officials to implement broader cultural sensitivity training, increase minority staffing and take other steps.

In his response Sunday, Wolfe said many of the student group’s demands were under consideration.

“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,” his statement 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.”

The University of Missouri-Columbia has a population of 35,000 students, 17% of whom are minorities, the school says on its website.

Two graduate student groups called for walkouts at the university on Monday and Tuesday in solidarity with protesters.

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  • Charlie2001

    It’s probably best that Wolfe resign anyway. He was obviously too weak to overcome a boycott by a few black players, so I can’t see that he would ever be able to stand up for the vast majority of the students at Mizzou.

  • Kristen Baker

    So mob rule prevails. reverse racism wins. Another one bullied into giving in to political correctness

    We can not spend our lives worrying and thinking all day long about racism. While I know many make it their career and use it to gain fame and fortune, most of us must live our lives by taking care of bills, chores, necessities, children, making a living and those things that comprise living a life.

    I have to worry about my rent ($1000/month), health insurance ($310/month), internet ($80/month from TWC), car insurance ($25/month from Insurance.Panda), and phone ($20/month from mobile)… all on a 40k/year salary. Many people struggle much worse than I do.

    We can not concentrate 24 hours a day on scurrilous attacks on our character that we are racist. Stop giving those that ferment trouble attention or publicity. Learn to get along with others and show respect to your fellow man and do not engage in conversation or argument with those who are indeed racist – the haters, the malcontents – and want only to divide us.

  • steve thomas

    What a crock of shit! Another example of very small minority running the lives of a vast majority because that majority allows it to happen.

    • Virgil Dennis

      You are confused. I would hardly call the financial benefactors of college athletics a “vast majority”. On the contrary, they are a small elite group of predominantly white men. White men, by the way, who hold out the promise of a better life through physical performance as a carrot on a stick to educationally and economically disadvantaged young men, and who then call it “education”.

  • Virgil Dennis

    Here’s a comment I just read on a national news site that I think says it all:

    The only thing this shows is that college sports have now become more powerful than the institutions to which they are attached. Fifty black fraternity members cry out and the University turns a blind eye. Thirty black football players cry out and only then do heads roll. This is not a blow for racial quality, it is merely another brick knocked out from the foundation of American educational institutions as they bow to the money which they garner from the hard work of these thirty black men and the marketing of merchandise associated with them. If this sounds somewhat familiar, it should. Wolfe and Loftin are mere foremen of the plantation which is American academia, and they are being made an example of in order to ameliorate the African American community so that they don’t have to address the real issue…namely that college sports has become the primary focus and source of income of institutions which are supposed to be dedicated to advanced education and the furtherance of academic knowledge. College athletes, numerically speaking, are disproportionately African American. If there is any racism to be found here, this is it. Colleges and Universities across this country are using the educationally disadvantaged African American community to fund their 21st century sports plantations under the outward auspices of education. But the cat is out of the bag now, and this event…these thirty men…have shown where the real seat of power is in American academia. It is on the bench, on the sidelines. Because without those thirty men, without the finances brought by athletics, the University of Missouri falls into financial failure almost immediately. Athletics and academics both go down the drain, along with all the money. University plantations across the country better be paying attention and making some very rapid and dramatic changes, because revolution has begun. And it has begun in Missouri.

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