Only two hours away from Ferguson, Missouri, a series of events quickly enflamed the University of Missouri in Columbia this fall.* In a few short weeks, reports of racial slurs and a poop-smeared swastika led to a protest during a homecoming parade, one hunger striker, tents in Carnahan Quad, and a trending Twitter hashtag, #ConcernedStudents1950. When the football team threatened to boycott its November 8 game with Brigham Young University unless Mizzou’s president stepped down, the crisis required a fast resolution.
Timothy M. Wolfe, the president of the University of Missouri, had done little to deescalate tensions with students as the situation deteriorated in September and early October, according to Arthur G. Jago, a management professor at the school. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jago argues that Wolfe acted “autocratically,” failed to consult with faculty and students about several major decisions, and was dismissive of students’ concerns. These actions, according to Jago, resulted in the protests, the football boycott, and Wolfe’s ultimate resignation on November 9.
Many within the higher-education community are wondering whether Wolfe would have handled the crisis more tactfully and had the support of faculty members if he were a career academic. Wolfe isn’t a former college professor who taught for many years in his field and later worked his way up the administrative hierarchy. He’s a former executive at IBM and Novell Americas who was hired by Mizzou’s Board of Curators because he could, as Board Chair Warren Erdman has said, “sell” the importance of the school to others and run the school efficiently. Once he was at the helm of the university, some faculty members started to express concern about his lack of academic experience.