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University of Missouri president resigns after race complaints triggered protests

The president of the University of Missouri system resigned Monday amid criticism of his handling of student complaints about race and discrimination.

Protesters had demanded resignation of school president Tim Wolfe

In this Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, photo, members of the University of Missouri's Legion of Black Collegians and the Concerned Student 1950 supporters react after an on-campus protest, in Columbia, Mo. (Ellise Verheyen/Missourian via AP)

The president of the University of Missouri system resigned Monday amid criticism of his handling of student complaints about race and discrimination.

President Tim Wolfe said Monday that his resignation is effective immediately. The announcement came at a special meeting of the university system's governing body, the Board of Curators.

The complaints came to a head over the weekend when at least 30 black football players announced they would not participate in team activities until Wolfe was removed or stepped down.

For months, black student groups have complained of racial slurs and other slights on the overwhelmingly white flagship campus of the state's four-college system. Frustrations flared during a homecoming parade Oct. 10 when black protesters blocked Wolfe's car, and he did not get out and talk to them. They were removed by police.

Black members of the football team joined the outcry on Saturday night. By Sunday, a campus sit-in had grown in size, graduate student groups planned walkouts and politicians began to weigh in.

The athletes did not say explicitly whether they would boycott the team's three remaining games this season. The Tigers' next game is Saturday against BYU at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, and canceling it could cost the school more than $1 million US.

"The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe `Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,"' the players said in a statement. "We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students' experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!"

Head football coach Gary Pinkel expressed solidarity with the black players on Twitter by posting a picture of the team and coaches locking arms. The tweet read: "The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players."

Practice and other team activities were cancelled on Sunday, Pinkel and Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades said in a joint statement. The statement linked the return of the protesting football players to the end of a hunger strike by a black graduate student who has vowed to not eat until Wolfe is gone.

"Our focus right now is on the health of Jonathan Butler, the concerns of our student-athletes and working with our community to address this serious issue," the statement said.
Jonathan Butler uses a megaphone during a 'day of action' demonstration to draw attention to graduate students' demands at he University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Mo. Butler began his hunger strike on Nov. 2. (Daniel Brenner/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP)

Missouri won the SEC East title in 2013 and 2014 but is unranked this year with a 4-5 record.

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

Also, a swastika drawn in feces was found recently in a dormitory bathroom.

Racial awareness program wanted

Butler, who participated in the homecoming parade protest, began his hunger strike on Nov. 2 to call attention to racial problems at the state's flagship university.

Many of the protests have been led by an organization called Concerned Student 1950, which gets its name from the year the university accepted its first black student. Its members besieged Wolfe's car at homecoming last month, and they have been conducting a sit-in on a campus plaza since last Monday.

The organization has demanded among other things that Wolfe "acknowledge his white male privilege," that he be removed immediately, and that the school adopt a mandatory racial-awareness program and hire more black faculty and staff.

One of the sit-in participants, Abigail Hollis, a black undergraduate, said the campus is "unhealthy and unsafe for us."

"The way white students are treated is in stark contrast to the way black students and other marginalized students are treated, and it's time to stop that," Hollis said. "It's 2015."

She said Wolfe has shown "much more of a lack of concern and much more of a lack of understanding for us" than other administrators.

Members of the Concerned Student 1950 and the Legion of Black Collegians link arms during a protest Saturday in Mark Twain Dining Hall the University of Missouri campus. (Sarah Bell/Missourian via AP/The Associated Press)

Already, at Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin's request, the university announced plans to require diversity training for all new students starting in January, along with faculty and staff.

Wolfe, 56, is a former software executive and Missouri business school graduate whose father taught at the university. He was hired in 2011 as president of a four-campus system that includes Columbia, succeeding another former business executive who also lacked experience in academia.

The campus in Columbia is about 180 kilometres west of Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb where tensions erupted over the shooting death of unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown last year by a white police officer.

The school's undergraduate population is 79 per cent white and eight per cent black. The state is about 83 per cent white and nearly 12 per cent black.

It's the latest controversy at the university in recent months, following the suspension of graduate students' health care subsidies and an end to university contracts with a Planned Parenthood clinic that performs abortions.

Two years ago, Pinkel and his team made headlines after defensive end Michael Sam came out as gay. Sam came out to his teammates and coaches before the 2013 season, and they agreed to keep his secret until he was ready to go public.

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