By Kevin Murphy
The University of Missouri’s president announced he would step down on Monday after protests over his handling of racial tensions on campus rocked the school.
The high-profile resignation is the latest shock to the state of Missouri, and the United States at large, which has been roiled for the past year or so by racial tensions after police shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in the state.
The university’s black football players had refused to practice or play until President Tim Wolfe stepped down, and some teachers and students had threatened to walk out of class.
“I take full responsibility for this frustration and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred,” an emotional Wolfe said in a televised news conference held to announce his resignation.
“My decision to resign comes out of love, not hate,” he added, as he quoted passages from the Bible. “Please, please use this resignation to heal, not to hate.”
The football team, known as the Tigers, suspended practice on Saturday and Sunday, and more than 30 black players had vowed not to return until Wolfe was fired or resigned.
In addition to the team’s action, student Jonathan Butler held a weeklong hunger strike.
“It should not have taken for me to put my life on the line to get to this place,” Butler told CNN after getting news of Wolfe’s resignation.
Protests on campus have been led by a group called ConcernedStudent1950, which says black students have endured racial slurs and believes white students benefit from favoritism in many aspects of campus life.
A majority of the approximately 35,000 students at the university in Columbia, about 200 km west of St. Louis, is white.
Total enrollment at the university is 35,488, according to the school’s website, including undergraduate, graduate and professional students. The website puts minority enrollment at 5,567, or 17.1 per cent, without specifying what constitutes a minority or giving a breakdown.
Racial tensions in Missouri flared last year when a white policeman in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson killed an unarmed young black man and a grand jury brought no charges against the officer. The shooting kindled nationwide soul-searching about the treatment of blacks by law enforcement.