Wolfe, Loftin step down, allow campus to heal

Former UM System President Tim Wolfe immediately after resigning Nov. 9 at the Old Alumni Center in Columbia, Mo.

It is hard to say for certain when the clock began ticking.

It could have begun in 1969, when the Legion of Black Collegians first issued demands for diversity advancement in a letter to then-Chancellor John W. Schwada. Or on Aug. 9, 2014, when Michael Brown was shot dead by Darren Wilson in Ferguson. It might have been when UM System President Tim Wolfe sat motionless on the trunk of his red convertible, wearing a thin, naive smile, as protesters all but begged him to engage in a dialogue with them.

It is unclear when the clock began ticking, but when Jonathan Butler declared his hunger strike Nov. 2, the hourglass was glued firmly to Wolfe’s desk.

UM System President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation Monday morning to a room of reporters, MU officials and the UM System Board of Curators amid growing racial tensions on MU’s campus. Hours later, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced his resignation, effective Jan. 1, at a meeting with the UM System Board of Curators.

Loftin will become the director for research facility development. He said he will work with different areas of the university to advance research and “assist the campus community.”

In a statement, Wolfe addressed the frustration of students and members of the MU community. He also acknowledged that a lack of communication “forced individuals like Jonathan Butler to take … unusual steps to effect change.”

“To our students, from Concerned Student 1950, grad students, football players and other students, the frustration and anger that I see is clear, real, and I don’t doubt it for a second,” Wolfe said.

Loftin also issued a statement following his resignation.

“It has been my pleasure to serve as chancellor of this great institution,” Loftin said in the statement. “I hope that every member of our campus community will embrace each person’s right to express their opinions in a respectful manner and to make progress toward our common goal of an inclusive campus that values the contributions of all individuals.”

Earlier on Monday, nine deans called for Loftin's resignation in an open letter to the curators, according to the Columbia Tribune.

How we got here

A series of controversial events have caused growing tensions on campus this semester.

On Monday, Nov. 2, graduate student Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike with the goal being Wolfe’s removal.

Wolfe’s resignation fell on the eighth day of Butler’s hunger strike.

Social justice groups such as the Student Coalition for Critical Action have staged several protests directed toward administration, including a series titled “Racism Lives Here”, since the beginning of the semester.

On-campus activism directly affected officials from UM System on Oct. 11 when Concerned Student 1950, a student advocacy movement, held a protest during the Homecoming parade by blocking Tim Wolfe’s car.

A sordid tenure

Just three weeks into Loftin’s time as chancellor, an upper balcony collapsed at the MU-owned University Village apartments, causing the building to be evacuated. One Columbia firefighter, Lt. Bruce Britt, died responding to the incident. The complex was demolished in July 2014.

After a report in April 2014 found MU failed to properly handle former swimmer Sasha Menu Courey’s sexual assault case, Loftin pledged to improve MU’s sexual assault procedures. Menu Courey killed herself in June 2011, 15 months after the assault was reported. Loftin later created a full-time Title IX coordinator position, which was filled by Ellen Eardley in April 2015.

Racial tensions on campus have escalated since the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. Several protests from student group MU4MikeBrown and others focused on racism on campus. At race relations forums held on campus, Loftin and other administrators were called out for their lack of action.

Graduate students protested in August 2015 after MU announced they would lose their university-sponsored health care. In a Faculty Council meeting the following week, Associate Vice Chancellor for Graduate Studies Leona Rubin revealed administrators hadn’t reviewed graduate satisfaction data in 12 years.

Loftin was criticized for his slow response to Missouri Students Association President Payton Head’s Facebook post Sept. 11 detailing an instance of racism on campus. Loftin released a statement Sept. 17 condemning discrimination on campus.

A few weeks later, members of the Legion of Black Collegians’ Homecoming royalty court were harassed on Traditions Plaza while rehearsing a skit Oct. 5. Loftin responded the next day with a statement and video. On Oct. 8, he announced the development of a mandatory campus-wide diversity and inclusion training for incoming students.

The men behind the negligence

Loftin became MU’s chancellor Feb. 1, 2014, after Brady Deaton stepped down from the position in November 2013. He was formerly the president of Texas A&M University.

When he was hired, Loftin said he expected to enjoy a lengthy tenure.

“I wouldn’t have even dreamed of coming here without a long-term commitment,” he said at the time.

Wolfe grew up in Columbia. He graduated from MU in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree from the Trulaske College of Business.

Wolfe’s father taught communications at MU’s College of Arts and Science, and his mother now teaches law at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover after earning four degrees at MU. He was also the quarterback on the 1975 state championship winning team for Rock Bridge High School.

His presidency was announced Dec. 13, 2011, after a yearlong search by the Board of Curators.

“I am very much looking forward to talking to students and trying to understand how we’re doing in delivering a quality education to each and every student on the campuses we serve,” Wolfe said when hired.

In 2014, the curators extended Wolfe’s contract to June 30, 2018. He had originally been contracted through Feb. 15, 2015.

At the time of the extension, former board Chairman Don Downing said that enrollment and donations have “substantially increased under Wolfe’s watch.”

Previously, Wolfe served as an executive for IBM for 20 years and then became the executive vice president of Covansys in 2000. He then served as president of the Americas at Novell from 2003-2007.

Closing remarks

Toward the end of his announcement on Monday, Wolfe choked on his words with tears in his eyes.

“My decision to resign comes out of love, not hate,” Wolfe said. “Use my resignation to heal and start talking again, to make the changes necessary.”

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