After the University of Missouri’s student-body president heard people yelling a racial slur at him from the back of a pickup truck, he said, he was moved to write a piece that has sparked a debate about discrimination of all sorts.

Payton Head’s post was shared more than 1,500 times within a few days and generated press coverage far beyond the Mizzou campus. Head became the latest symbol of the tension between students’ right to feel safe on campus and their right to free speech.

On Thursday, the university’s leader responded.

“Let me be very clear about where I stand as Mizzou’s chancellor: one bias incident is too many,” R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement.

“The incidents that I have heard about – both blatant and subtle – are totally unacceptable. Our core values of Respect, Responsibility, Discovery and Excellence leave no room for bias and discrimination.

“We support free speech in the context of learning, spirited inquiry and intellectual discussion, but acts of bias and discrimination will not be tolerated at Mizzou.”

Not everyone was impressed. Sophomore Kennedy Ward wrote in an e-mail, “Well, our Chancellor just responded to these events and it’s a polished piece of politically correct garbage.

“Referring to these recent events as ‘acts of bias,’ our Chancellor completely avoided using the terms ‘racism’ and ‘homophobia’ throughout the entire letter. …

“Experiences like Payton Head’s have been going unnoticed, unchanged and minimized within this university for far too long. Our voices need to be heard.”

Here is the chancellor’s letter in full:

Dear MU Students, Staff, and Faculty:
Many of you are aware of recent incidents of bias and discrimination directed at members of our community.  I have heard from far too many of you who have experienced incidents of bias and discrimination on and off campus.  This is particularly hurtful when our students are the target.
I regret the delay in providing a clear statement of our position to the Mizzou community, but during the intervening days MUPD interviewed affected parties, and we have been in conversation with the students involved in recent incidents to ensure that their wishes are taken into account in any public statement that we make.
Let me be very clear about where I stand as Mizzou’s chancellor:  one bias incident is too many.  The incidents that I have heard about – both blatant and subtle – are totally unacceptable. Our core values of Respect, Responsibility, Discovery and Excellence leave no room for bias and discrimination.  We support free speech in the context of learning, spirited inquiry and intellectual discussion, but acts of bias and discrimination will not be tolerated at Mizzou.
Since the Call to Action by our students, we have been working on a number of fronts to address the issues brought forward.  Thanks to the leadership of students, faculty and staff, a full progress update can be found on the transparency web site.  We still have a tremendous amount of work to do, and I challenge everyone at Mizzou to stand against acts of bias and discrimination.
As always, anyone with safety concerns should contact MUPD at 573-882-7201.  They will investigate all reports of bias incidents and, whenever possible under the law, take steps to hold the perpetrators responsible.  Students may also pursue complaints by contacting the Office of Student Conduct.
I invite all members of the MU community to stand together against bias and discrimination.  We will be continuing our efforts to respond to the concerns that have been raised and to employ working groups relative to the steps we must take as a university and a community to live up to our values.  Please help us make this campus a safe and productive learning and living environment and show our community and the world that Mizzou will not tolerate hate.
Sincerely,
R. Bowen Loftin
Chancellor