Tim Wolfe resigned his position as president of the University of Missouri on Monday amid mounting pressure from students and faculty.
Given on-campus protests, growing national attention on one student’s hunger strike and the threat of a boycott by players of color on the football team, he had no other option.
At best, his handling (or mishandling) of the racism and broader tension that has consumed the school in recent months was a display of utter confusion and blind naivete. More likely it was a determined and misguided attempt to throw blinders up and carry on; a stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge the context in which the unrest on the campus unfolded.
Wolfe, a former IBM executive who, reports suggest, had been hired to curb costs at the school, stumbled badly after a group of black students asked him recently if he understood the term systematic oppression.
“I will give you an answer, and I’m sure it will be a wrong answer...Systematic oppression is when you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success,” Wolfe reportedly said, sparking outrage at the suggestion that black students had conjured the idea for their own benefit.
In the last several months, black students on campus have reported being called racial slurs. The n-word was tossed around. A swastika was painted in human feces on a dorm wall. Through it all, Wolfe remained largely quiet, failing in at least one instance to even acknowledge student protesters, let alone their demands that he address persistent racism on campus. Of course there is no easy fix or miracle salve, but the silence said loudly to students and faculty, particularly those of color, that acknowledging and grappling with racism on campus was not a priority for him. Only after graduate student Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike calling for his resignation did Wolfe issue an apology--one without real teeth.