The president of the University of Missouri system resigned Monday with some on campus in open revolt over his handling of racial tensions at the school.
President Tim Wolfe, a former business executive with no previous experience in academic leadership, took “full responsibility for the frustration” students expressed and said their complaints were “clear” and “real.”
He made the announcement at the start of what had been expected to be a lengthy closed-door meeting of the school’s governing board.
For months, black student groups have complained of racial slurs and other slights on the overwhelmingly white flagship campus of the state’s four-college system. The complaints came to a head two days ago, when at least 30 black football players announced that they would not play until the president was gone. One student went on a week-long hunger strike.
“This is not the way change comes about,” Wolfe said, alluding to recent protests, in a halting statement that was simultaneously apologetic, clumsy and defiant. “We stopped listening to each other.”
He urged students, faculty and staff to use the resignation “to heal and start talking again to make the changes necessary.”
Black members of the football team joined the outcry on Saturday night. By Sunday, a campus sit-in had grown in size, graduate student groups planned walkouts and politicians began to weigh in.
A black graduate student named Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike on Nov. 2 and vowed not to eat until Wolfe was gone. After Wolfe’s announcement, Butler said that his strike was over.
The protests began after the student government president, who is black, said in September that people in a passing pickup truck shouted racial slurs at him. In early October, members of a black student organization said slurs were hurled at them by an apparently drunken white student.
Frustrations flared again during a homecoming parade, when black protesters blocked Wolfe’s car, and he did not get out and talk to them. They were removed by police.
Also, a swastika was found recently in a dormitory bathroom.
Many of the protests have been led by an organization called Concerned Student 1950, which gets its name from the year the university accepted its first black student. Group members besieged Wolfe’s car at the parade, and they have been conducting a sit-in on a campus plaza since last Monday.
Two trucks flying Confederate flags drove past the site Sunday, a move many saw as an attempt at intimidation.
Also joining in the protest effort were two graduate student groups that called for walkouts Monday and Tuesday and the student government at the Columbia campus, the Missouri Students Association.
The school’s undergraduate population is 79 percent white and 8 percent black. The state is about 83 percent white and nearly 12 percent black.
Wolfe, 57, is a former software executive and Missouri business school graduate whose father taught at the university. He was hired as president in 2011, succeeding another former executive with no experience in academia.