COLUMBIA - Two of the highest-ranking officials in the University of Missouri system stepped down Monday during a seven-hour Board of Curators meeting at the university's Old Alumni Center.
System president Tim Wolfe resigned from his position hours before R. Bowen Loftin announced his decision to step away from his role as University of Missouri chancellor at the end of 2015. The changes come amid protests of the system's handling of racist incidents at its flagship university during the past 90 days.
Loftin will assume a research position with the university effective Jan. 1, 2016.
With Wolfe's announcement, the hunger strike of graduate student Jonathan Butler concluded. Wolfe's resignation came on the heels of the school's football team striking in support of Butler, and university staff had planned a walkout Monday and today in support of Butler and a student activist group called Concerned Student 1950. The name reflects the year the university accepted its first black student.
In response to Wolfe's resignation, Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement: "Tim Wolfe's resignation was a necessary step toward healing and reconciliation on the University of Missouri campus, and I appreciate his decision to do so. There's more work to do, and now the University of Missouri must move forward - united by a commitment to excellence, and respect and tolerance for all. The University of Missouri is an outstanding institution that will continue to play a vital role in our efforts to provide a world class education to every Missouri student."
Wolfe acknowledged the various protest groups, saying "the frustration and anger that I see is clear, real, and I don't doubt it for a second."
"It is my belief we stopped listening to each other," Wolfe added. "We didn't respond or react. We got frustrated, and we forced individuals like Jonathan Butler to take immediate action and unusual steps to effect change. ... I take full responsibility for this frustration, and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred."
Butler had been on a hunger strike since Nov. 2 and said he would not eat until Wolfe was removed from office. Butler was critical of the university's response to racist events on campus this fall, including verbal assaults and a swastika being drawn in feces on a dormitory wall. Butler also criticized the university's recent handling of health insurance for graduate students and removal of Planned Parenthood privileges.
The board said it was willing to meet with Butler's father, who was in town Monday.
"I'm really joyful today because Jonathan Butler ended his hunger strike," said Loftin, whose announcement came hours after Butler ended his strike. "It's a good thing for all of us. I'd like to acknowledge his extraordinary courage in doing what he did."
Loftin will transition into the position of director for research facility development.
"I'm pleased to be able to move into a role where I will be working to assist the campus community and developing private researching facilities and needs for our extraordinary faculty," he said.
Wolfe, whose statement came before the board went into an hours-long closed session, said he hoped his resignation would facilitate change and the focus would be placed on the future instead of the past.
"We need to use my resignation - please, please use this resignation to heal, not to hate, and let's move forward together for a brighter tomorrow. God bless all of you and thank you for this wonderful opportunity to have led the University of Missouri."
State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, attended the meeting and said she was "excited" about Wolfe's resignation.
"We have to keep in mind of what president Wolfe said," said Chappelle-Nadal, who met with Wolfe before the board meeting. "Use this resignation for healing. And we can't afford to Band-Aid this any more. The students knew exactly the trigger point. They pushed it."
Wolfe's resignation was one in a list of eight demands made by Concerned Student 1950. Chappelle-Nadal said her focus now was on the other demands, especially one which asked for increased mental health funding at the university, and an increase in mental health professionals of color.
The other six demands were:
A handwritten apology from Wolfe, to be read at the Missouri Student Center. The letter was to include an acknowledgement by Wolfe of his white male privilege, recognition of systems of oppression, and a commitment to fulfilling the group's demands. Concerned Student 1950 also demanded Wolfe admit negligence in response to racist events on campus, and that he was wrong in handling the group's protest at last month's Homecoming parade. During that Oct. 10 incident, black protesters blocked Wolfe's car and he would not get out and talk to them. The protesters were eventually removed by police.
That the university meet the Legion of Black Collegians' demands presented in 1969. Those included an increase in black faculty, the implementation of a Black Studies program, the establishment of a black culture center, the dedicating of a campus building to a black leader, periodically promoting black service staff and employees, actively recruiting black students, setting aside scholarships and implementing tutoring for black students, having an annual "Black Week," increasing the number of black cheerleaders and pom pom girls, and creating an office for the LBC.
That the university creates and enforces a mandatory racial awareness curriculum, vetted by a board of students and staff of color.
That the university increase the percentage of black faculty and staff to 10 percent by the academic year 2017-18. As of the fall of 2014, 3.25 percent of the full-time faculty was listed as black/African American (non-hispanic) according to the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative, and the full-time staff percentage was 7.08.
That the university composes a 10-year plan by May 2016 for increasing retention rate of minorities, sustaining a diversity curriculum and fostering an inclusive campus.
That the university increase funding and resources for on-campus social justice centers.
After Wolfe's announcement, multiple members of the football team tweeted they would be returning to their football activities. The team, which said Sunday it would not be practicing until Butler resumed eating, issued a statement early Monday afternoon annoucing its return to football activities.
Director of athletics Mack Rhoades and head football coach Gary Pinkel said their support of the team's boycott was not motivated by wanting system officials to lose their jobs.
Hank Foley, Missouri's senior vice chancellor for research and graduate studies, who is also the executive vice president for academic affairs, was named the interim chancellor.
Loftin, who was named chancellor in February 2014, faced similar criticism to Wolfe for his handling of racist events, and issued multiple statements saying racism is a problem at the university. Last week, the university's English department issued a vote of no confidence in Loftin's leadership.
In addition to Wolfe and Loftin's announcements, the board announced a number of initiatives to improve the racial environment on campus, including the creation of a chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer position.
The curators also plan to create a supportive diversity, inclusion and equity task force to assist in the diversity efforts across campus.
The board also plans to launch a leadership training and development education program for the board members, the new system president and administrative leadership and faulty. In addition, they will put in place a mandatory, broader program for faculty, staff and future students.
Other initiatives include:
A full review of all University of Missouri system policies as they relate to staff and student conduct.
Additional support for students, faculty and staff who have experienced discrimination and disparate treatment.
Additional support for the hiring and retention of diverse faculty and staff.