Revolution in Missouri

The University of Missouri has been in the news lately for the wrong and right reasons.  The University president and the chancellor of the Columbia campus did not exercise good leadership and have been forced to resign.  Much of the campus, led by a group of protesters, has dealt with challenges of racism here in an honorable way, albeit with some lapses.  The football team, supported by their head coach, threatened not to play unless the president resigned.

Although most of the national media attention focused on the president for his handling of issues of racism, locally there was even more attention on the chancellor.  There was a list of complaints about him in addition to his handling of racism on campus.  This prompted two departments to vote no confidence in him and nine deans to urge his resignation.

On a less significant level, Missouri was in the news because our starting quarterback was suspended for the season.  Our football coach has been a model of integrity, refusing to overlook the quarterback’s transgressions while steadfastly maintaining confidentiality about the matter.

Our campus leaders have said that racism “would not be tolerated.”  Would that we could banish it so easily.  It is like a virulent but often subtle cancer that affects us all.

I think that the revolution in Missouri generally has been a healthy development.  But it addresses only a small part of a difficult, complex set of problems and we have a long way to go.  Although we have gotten a lot of press lately, I think that the issues here are symptomatic of problems in campuses around the country and society generally.


Update:  My colleague (and member of our DR Center), Chuck Henson, was just named as interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity.   Chuck is a very talented, sensitive, and caring guy and I think that this should help things move in a good direction.  Although the immediate crisis has ended, I’m sure that many difficult challenges are ahead.   Best wishes to you, Chuck, and thanks for taking on this responsibility.

Second update:  My colleague, Michael Middleton, was appointed as interim president.  He was a civil rights attorney before joining our law faculty.  He served as deputy chancellor for many years where one of his duties was to supervise our Campus Mediation Service.


6 thoughts on “Revolution in Missouri”

  1. Regarding this situation, I believe that the national media attention has had more of a negative, than positive, effect on the way that the University is viewed and regarded. As a University of Missouri alumnus, I have had others call in to question the value of my degree from a University that is willing to allow a small percentage of students “strong arm” the administration. I am mainly referring to the President, rather than the chancellor, because I have read other articles discussing the administrations opposition to the chancellor. While I cannot speak to the substance of the racism problems on or around campus because I am no longer a member of the community there, I do believe that the process and the way that the matter was handled could have been better.

    Tim Wolfe was the president of the entire University of Missouri system consisting of four campuses and over 75,000 students. This makes me question what information he knew and how aware he actually was of the racism issue on the single Columbia campus. This question would never be answered, however, because there was no investigation or formal process to handle the complaints. I believe that the Chancellor is more responsible as he was the one responsible for overseeing that specific campus. My main point is that I would have appreciated more of a process and investigation before the resignation.

    On a side note, I completely agree with your comments about the football coach. He has consistently held all of his players to the same standard regardless of their skill. It takes a lot of integrity to suspend your starting quarterback for the season.

  2. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published a careful article providing the backstory of the “revolution in Missouri.” The contemporaneous news reporting focused primarily on students’ public protests against racism with calls for the resignation of the university president. These protests occurred at the end a behind-the-scenes campaign by nine deans on the Columbia campus to oust the Columbia chancellor because of his autocratic leadership style.

    This article is especially compelling because it includes on-the-record versions of events both from the deans and the chancellor. In the weeks leading up to the resignations, there had been rumors about efforts to oust the dean and this report confirms them. The University’s Board of Curators had held two closed meetings, which fueled speculation because it is required to have open meetings except for things like personnel matters.

    I think that full-time academics particularly will find this a fascinating and chilling read.

  3. The situation at the University of Missouri raises an interesting question. How much power and influence do college student-athletes have on campus, especially at a large university? After months of brewing tensions regarding racism on campus, the football team became involved in the protests by refusing to play unless the president resigned. Only two days after the football strike began, the president resigned. Would the president have resigned so quickly if the football team did not get involved? Regardless of the answer to that question, the university’s administration should never have let the situation reach that point. The president had a history of poorly handling racism complaints on campus, and his resignation was long overdue.

    Additionally, seeing as how Missouri, who has made it to the SEC championship game the previous two seasons, is in the midst of a losing season with little hope of salvaging what is left of it, I can’t help but wonder if the football team would have taken the same stance if they were were having the same type of success this season.

  4. John,

    Great piece. While I believe that it is important for the football team to stand up for what they believe in, I simply wonder if this would have happened had Mizzou been on the verge of another SEC East title.

    Nevertheless, I also believe this issue presents an important discussion because, from what I have read elsewhere, this is not the first noted act of racism on campus there (i.e. In 2010, “University of Missouri police yesterday arrested two white male students suspected of dropping cotton balls in front of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center on campus”). Thus, one lesson that could be taken away from this is the need to be proactive from an administrative point of view.

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