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UM System President Responds to Protests

University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe talks to 'St. Louis on the Air' host Don Marsh on Jan. 29, 2015, at St. Louis Public Radio in St. Louis.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio

KBIA, Columbia, Mo. - There was a rush of local and national media attention Sunday after the students of color on the Mizzou Tigers Football team’s Saturday announcement that they would not take part in any “football related activities” until University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe either resigned or was removed from office due to his “negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences.”

On Sunday afternoon, a statement from President Wolfe was released by his office, but he did not make an in-person appearance.

The statement acknowledged that “change is needed” and that President Wolfe’s staff has been meeting “around the clock” to address the issues being brought to light by Concerned Student 1950, Jonathan Butler, a black graduate student on a hunger strike until Wolfe’s resignation, and, most recently, the football team’s announcement they will not be involved in football activities until action is taken.

Wolfe, in his statement, said that he is confident that all of campus can come together to improve the student experience on campus, if everyone came together and had “meaningful conversation that promotes change.”

John Fougere, a spokesperson for President Wolfe’s office, said the President acknowledges that racism is an issue on the University of Missouri campuses.

“We are talking about a problem that is systemic - it is pervasive - it is a societal problem and our campuses reflect society,” Fougere said.

He added the way for the UM campuses to move forward was to bring the entire campus community together – including leadership, students and faculty – and have them address the issue together.

“But we're only going to get there if we have this meeting,” Fougere said. “If we get around a table and to start having this conversation.”

Fougere said the President has actually included a system wide diversity inclusion strategy in his strategic goals.

“This has been something that has been a priority for the President long before the current crisis that we are in,” Fougere said.

According to Fougere, the President has met with the MSA board and with Concerned Student 1950 and Jonathon Butler twice, as well as other community leaders. Fougere also said the President “believes the way to address this is ongoing dialogue, which is something we crucially and critically need right now because that’s the only way we can begin to form solutions.”   

Fougere added that the President wants to take on the problems of racism and tolerance, and promoting diversity and inclusion on the UM campuses.

“It can seem completely intractable, but the President believes that’s not an excuse,” Fougere said. “We have to try - we have to move the ball - we have to do whatever it takes. It’s an extremely difficult undertaking, but the President is confident that if we can begin to do that and have the frank conversations and the dialogue, it’s going to move us into a position where we are addressing this issue.”

In response to the increasing protests calling for his departure, University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe issued a written statement Sunday afternoon defending his administration's approach to diversity.

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. My administration has been meeting around the clock and has been doing a tremendous amount of reflection on how to address these complex matters. Clearly, we are open to listening to all sides, and are confident that we can come together to improve the student experience on our campuses. We want to find the best way to get everyone around the table and create the safe space for a meaningful conversation that promotes change. We will share next steps as soon as they are confirmed. 

In conjunction with campus representatives, the university began work on a systemwide diversity and inclusion strategy, plan and metrics for the University of Missouri System as part of my strategic goals (see 1.4.i of the System Strategic Plan) as approved by the Board of Curators in summer 2015. 

xOur due date for announcing the strategy was April 2016, having allowed for multiple stakeholders (e.g., faculty, staff, students, consultants) across the system to provide input into the plan. 

The majority of items listed on the Concerned Student 1950 List of Demands were already included in the draft of the strategy.  While the student list provides more detail and more specific metrics than had been established in the UM System plan, we had anticipated providing specificity and detail to the plan over the coming months.

In the meantime, I am dedicated to ongoing dialogue to address these very complex, societal issues as they affect our campus community. 

This is Wolfe's second statement in less than a week. On Friday, Nov. 6, Wolfe released an apology for his behavior toward the student activist group Concerned Student 1950. 

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