Missouri uni president quits amid racial unrest on campus

Students protest over university's handling of racial abuse claims; chancellor reassigned

COLUMBIA (Missouri) • The University of Missouri's president has stepped down and its chancellor moved aside after protests by the school's football team and other students over what they saw as soft handling of reports of racial abuse on campus.

President Tim Wolfe's resignation, followed by news that chancellor R. Bowen Loftin would be moved to a new job, was the latest shock to the state of Missouri, and the United States at large, which has been roiled for more than a year by racial tensions after police shot and killed an unarmed young black man in the state.

Unrest at the university started on Sept 12 when Mr Payton Head, president of the Missouri Students Association, said on his Facebook page that he was repeatedly racially abused on campus by someone riding in a pickup.

His post went viral, and the lack of any strong reaction by Mr Wolfe led to demonstrations at the school's homecoming parade the following month, when protesters blocked the university president's car. Later that month, a swastika drawn in faeces was found at a university dorm building, according to the Residence Halls Association.

Protests reached a critical point last weekend when the university's black football players refused to practise or play for the university team, the Tigers, until Mr Wolfe stepped down.

SLOW TO RESPOND

To those who have suffered, I apologise on behalf of the university for being slow to respond to experiences that are unacceptable and offensive in our campus communities and in our society.

MR DONALD CUPPS, chair of the University of Missouri board of curators

That would have been a financial hit to the university, which, under its contract, would have had to pay US$1 million (S$1.4 million) to next weekend's opponents, Brigham Young University, if the Tigers failed to play.

Some teachers and students also threatened a boycott of classes. Protests have been led by a group called ConcernedStudent1950, which says black students have endured racial slurs and white students benefit from favouritism in many aspects of campus life.

In a televised news conference on Monday, an emotional Mr Wolfe said: "I take full responsibility for this frustration and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred."

Mr Wolfe, a former software executive who joined the university in 2012, is the 23rd president of the four-campus system which describes itself as "one of the nation's largest public research university systems with more than 77,000 students and nearly a half million alumni worldwide".

The university's board also issued an apology later on Monday, saying that Dr Loftin, the target of earlier protests which later switched to Mr Wolfe, would become director of research facility development.

"To those who have suffered, I apologise on behalf of the university for being slow to respond to experiences that are unacceptable and offensive in our campus communities and in our society," Mr Donald Cupps, chair of the University of Missouri board of curators, said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'Missouri uni president quits amid racial unrest on campus'. Print Edition | Subscribe