Tim Wolfe’s resignation Monday as the University of Missouri System president came after months of escalating racial tension surrounding high-profile incidents on the flagship campus in Columbia, Mo., and student criticism about the administration’s response.
Here’s a rundown of what happened leading up to Wolfe’s announcement that he was stepping down from his post leading the four-campus system.
Thousands of people took to the streets last year in Ferguson, Mo., just hours away from Columbia, following the August 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.
Dozens of Missouri students joined demonstrators in August and again in November after a grand jury decided against indicting Darren Wilson, the white officer who fatally shot Brown. Following the initial protests, three Mizzou students started the activist group MU for Michael Brown, which later gave rise to a second group, Concerned Student 1950; that group’s name was a nod to the year black students were first admitted to the university.
In light of the unrest in Ferguson, members of the student groups lamented the university’s lack of official response to racial tensions on campus.
A swastika and the word “heil” were drawn in what appeared to be charcoal on the wall of a residence hall stairway in April. Authorities arrested freshman resident Bradley Becker days later and charged him with second-degree property damage motivated by discrimination. Becker pleaded guilty in October to a lesser charge and will serve two years probation.
Payton Head said he was walking with a friend when a pickup truck slowed down and a group of young people inside screamed a racial epithet at him. The Missouri Students Association president, who is black, shared the story in a social media post that went viral and prompted a response from Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.
Head said at the time that he had been previously called a racial slur on campus, as well.
Members of the Legion of Black Collegians were rehearsing on campus for a homecoming court performance when an “inebriated white man” walking by interrupted and called the students the n-word, the group publicly announced.
“There was a silence that fell over us all, almost in disbelief that this racial slur in particular was used in our vicinity,” the group wrote.
The university said that all incoming freshman will have to receive online diversity training. The move was welcomed by some students. But activists were more skeptical, calling the move a “knee-jerk” reaction to improve the school’s image.
Police removed Concerned Student 1950 protesters who blocked the president’s car during the campus homecoming parade. Wolfe did not leave his car to speak with the students.
“We disrupted the parade specifically in front of Tim Wolfe because we need him to get our message,” graduate student Jonathan Butler, one of the protesters, told the Missourian. “We’ve sent emails, we’ve sent tweets, we’ve messaged, but we’ve gotten no response back from the upper officials at Mizzou to really make change on this campus. And so we directed it to him personally.”
Concerned Student 1950 released a list of demands, including from Wolfe apologize to the homecoming parade demonstrators and be removed from his post. The students also demanded increasing black faculty and staff; mandatory racial awareness and inclusion curriculum for all staff, faculty and students; and additional funding and resources for mental health professionals, particularly those of color, to boost campus programming and outreach to students.
Months after the anti-Semitic symbol was found in the Mark Twain residence hall, officials found another swastika on Oct. 24. This one was drawn using feces smeared on the floor and wall of a bathroom.
“After this event, it has become clear to me that the inclusivity of our residence halls has been threatened,” Resident Halls Association president Bill Donley said in a statement.
Concerned Student 1950 announced it had met with Wolfe, but said that he wasn’t meeting any of their demands.
“Wolfe verbally acknowledged that he cared for Black students at the University of Missouri, however he also reported he was ‘not completely’ aware of systemic racism, sexism, and patriarchy on campus,” a statement from the group read.
A 25-year-old graduate student announced a hunger strike that, he said, he would not break unless Wolfe resigned. Jonathan Butler, a member of Concerned Student 1950, said he was ready to die for his cause, and other students began camping out on campus in support.
“As much as the experiences on campus have not been that great for me — I had people call me the n-word, I had someone write the n-word on the a door in my residence hall — for me it really is about a call for justice,” Butler told the Post. “I’m fighting for the black community on campus, because justice is worth fighting for. And justice is worth starving for.”
Wolfe released a statement Friday apologizing for how student protests at homecoming were handled and expressing concern for Butler’s health.
“My behavior seemed like I did not care,” Wolfe said of the parade incident. “That was not my intention. I was caught off guard in that moment. Nonetheless, had I gotten out of the car to acknowledge the students and talk with them perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
He added: “Racism does exist at our university, and it is unacceptable. It is a long-standing, systemic problem which daily affects our family of students, faculty and staff.”
A group of black football players announced that they were joining ongoing student protests and pledged to stop participating in football-related activities for the remainder of the season unless Wolfe resigned or was fired.
Head coach Gary Pinkel tweeted his support for his players and included a photo showing what appeared to include staff with both black and white players from the Mizzou football team.
— Coach Gary Pinkel (@GaryPinkel) November 8, 2015
This move, from one of the most popular, profitable and visible groups on campus, helped propel the situation into the national spotlight. It also raised the stakes for Wolfe; the university would have to pay $1 million to Bringham Young University if it canceled an upcoming game.
The president released a statement Sunday night, making no indications he had plans to step down and saying that his administration was “confident that we can come together to improve the student experience on our campuses.”
“I am dedicated to ongoing dialogue to address these very complex, societal issues as they affect our campus community,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said the majority of Concerned Student 1950 demands were already in a draft strategic plan to improve system-wide diversity and inclusion.
Rep. Steven Cookson (R), chairman of the Missouri House Committee on Higher Education, said Wolfe “can no longer effectively lead” the university system and called Wolfe’s reaction to protesters’ concerns “callous.” Another Republican lawmaker also urged Wolfe to resign.
Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said he supported the campus protesters. “These concerns must be addressed to ensure the University of Missouri is a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion.”
Some faculty members said they would stage a walk-out on Monday.
At a special meeting called by the university’s governing body, Wolfe announced his resignation.
“My motivation in making this decision comes from love,” he said. “I love MU, Colubmia, where I grew up, the state of Missouri.
“This is not the way change should come about,” he said, calling on the community to stop yelling and start listening to one another. But he said, “I take full responsibility for this frustration. I take full responsibility for this inaction.”
Wolfe said his resignation was effective immediately.
— JB. (@_JonathanButler) November 9, 2015
Wesley Lowery contributed to this story.