As a result of protests that included a hunger strike by a graduate student and the pressure of a threatened boycott by members of the football team, President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin of the University of Missouri announced their resignations yesterday. The protests occurred after a series of alleged racial incidents at the university.

Here’s a quick summary of the events leading up to their departures:

The protests began after the student government president, who is black, said in September that people in a passing pickup truck shouted racial slurs at him. In early October, members of a black student organization said slurs were hurled at them by an apparently drunken white student.

Frustrations flared again during a homecoming parade, when black protesters blocked Wolfe’s car, and he did not get out and talk to them. They were removed by police. Also, a swastika drawn in feces was found recently in a dormitory bathroom.

The university did take some steps to ease tensions. At Loftin’s request, the school announced plans to offer diversity training to all new students starting in January, as well as faculty and staff.

But the protesters were not that easily satisfied.

This was their reaction to the diversity training announcement:

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.

On October 20, the protesters issued a set of eight demands, the first two of which were as follows:

I. We demand that the University of Missouri System President, Tim Wolfe, writes a handwritten apology to the Concerned Student 1-­9-­5-0 demonstrators and holds a press conference in the Mizzou Student Center reading the letter. In the letter and at the press conference, Tim Wolfe must acknowledge his white male privilege, recognize that systems of oppression exist, and provide a verbal commitment to fulfilling Concerned Student 1-9-5-­0 demands. We want Tim Wolfe to admit to his gross negligence, allowing his driver to hit one of the demonstrators, consenting to the physical violence of bystanders, and lastly refusing to intervene when Columbia Police Department used excessive force with demonstrators.

II. We demand the immediate removal of Tim Wolfe as UM system president. After his removal a new amendment to UM system policies must be established to have all future UM system president and Chancellor positions be selected by a collective of students, staff, and faculty of diverse backgrounds.

So even if the president were to comply with the public confession and self-flagellation in the first demand, it was deemed insufficient and his dismissal was still called for in the second. President Wolfe later countered that many of the student demands were included in a “systemwide diversity and inclusion strategy” that would be issued in April. This wasn’t enough, either.

And what of the alleged racist incidents themselves?

Every one of them might have occurred exactly as described, although there’s no way to know for sure at this point. But none of these perpetrators has ever been identified, and it’s not even clear whether the perpetrators would have been students at the university, or how one would locate them. And, if the situation is anything like what has occurred at several other universities, the possibility that hoaxes are involved cannot be ruled out. Oberlin is one such example:

…Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller News Foundation broke the story that a number of supposed racial incidents at Oberlin College in Ohio this spring [2013] were, in fact, a hoax. Oberlin certainly took the incidents seriously, even canceling classes on March 5 to convene a “day of solidarity.” However, Oberlin city police reports obtained by Ross made it clear that at least some of the material that had Oberlin up in arms, including a large swastika banner that was hung in the science center under cover of night, was in fact done by one or two Oberlin students as a “joke/troll to get an overreaction, in the context of the racist crap that has been going on on campus.”…

Oberlin is not the only campus that has suffered in recent times from hate incident hoaxes. New examples seem to pop up every year, sometimes more than once.

But let’s assume that the incidents at University of Missouri occurred exactly as described by the victims.

The question remains: what would be the proper remedy? Unless a campus reacts as Oberlin did to its hoax incident—cancelling classes to convene a “day of solidarity” and the like—is the response deemed insufficient? After all, there is no way to completely eliminate racism at a place such as a large university, even though Chancellor Loftin had declared recently that even one bias incident was too many.

If the University of Missouri is a place where anti-black racism is alleged to have repeatedly occurred, it’s also a place where student body president Payton Head (described in the school newspaper as “an activist for social change since he stepped foot on MU”) is black, as is the current student body vice-president. It was Head who lodged the original complaint on Facebook about the men in the back of a pickup truck screaming the N-word repeatedly at him.

That Facebook post, written on September 12, is well worth reading in its entirety. It contains a list of grievances that touches on nearly every group commonly claiming victimization, and a call for action. In it, Head chides: “If your simple existence is not a political statement, I’m really going to need for you to check your privilege.”

It took only two months after that for Wolfe’s presidency to unravel. Here are some subsequent events that led to the denouement:

A meeting between Wolfe and protesters on Oct. 27 did not resolve the issues. On Nov. 3, Wolfe said that racism on campus is unacceptable and that he would work to combat it; protesters were not satisfied and began a boycott of student services on campus. On Nov. 6, he apologized for his reaction during the homecoming parade…

Members of Concerned Student 1950 confronted Wolfe at an event last week and asked him if he knew what “systematic oppression” is. He responded that “systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success,” further angering protesters who felt he had just blamed black students for the problem.

There were earlier grievances about Wolfe, too, among them protesters’ dissatisfaction with Wolfe’s reaction (or non-reaction) to the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri:

…[T]he Missouri Students Association, which represents the school’s undergraduates, formally called for Wolfe’s removal. In a letter, it decried the administration’s silence after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, a black man, by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and charged that Wolfe had “enabled a system of racism” on the Columbia campus and had failed the students.

There are other Ferguson connections. For example, in an interview with hunger-striking grad student Jonathan Butler, he said that he had cut his activist teeth on the Brown incident protests:

But when you talk about most recently on campus, in terms of protesting and mobilizing communities, that really came from my experience organizing during Ferguson, after the murder of Mike Brown. Because the University of Missouri is only two hours away from Ferguson, and being able to have that experience…

…[I]t’s a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. But in another sense, this is really unique to campus just because of the example that we got from some of those who were organizing in Ferguson. There are three queer black women, who used their knowledge from Ferguson organizing in creating an organization called MU for Mike Brown. And from that, that’s really where a lot of what has been going on on campus has been morphed from.

Now that the activists have gotten the desired resignations, will there be more incidents and more demands? And how will those demands be satisfied? Keep in mind that this is only the current manifestation of a trend that’s been going on since the late 1960s at universities across the country. In his 1989 book The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom described one of the seminal battles in the struggle. It occurred at Cornell in 1969, and I described it in an earlier post at Legal Insurrection:

Bloom was a professor at Cornell at the time, and black activist students and their supporters violently disrupted the campus in order to force the powers that be to accede to their demands. That uprising and others were successful, and Bloom later described the situation as one in which students discovered that “pompous teachers who catechized them about academic freedom could, with a little shove, be made into dancing bears.”

It is easy to see how the uprising at Cornell and the administration’s capitulation to it set the stage for the acceleration of several trends that are in full flower today: the general leftward drift of the universities, the hegemony of PC thought, the increasing fragmentation of the campus into special interest groups divided along racial and ethnic lines, and the politicization of the university as a whole. Bloom reminds us that the roots of these movements go back much further and deeper than most people realize.

President Wolfe became a dancing bear. But he wasn’t dancing fast enough or to the right tune, and so he had to go.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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