4 Things You Might Have Wrong about the Mizzou Story
For most of this week, the story of University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigning amidst protests by a group called Concerned Student 1950 has dominated the national 24-hour news cycle. The problem with the 24-hour news cycle is that context often gets lost in the shuffle, and this story has LOTS of context. Even people who live in the Mid-Missouri community are a little confused by how this story has played out because it’s incredibly nuanced and been ongoing for months.
But the widespread coverage of this story has led to some very common misconceptions that can affect the way people understand this story. Here are four points we at KBIA would like to clear up.
1. Melissa Click has not actually resigned, and she’s not a journalism professor.
If you’ve been following this story, you likely know who Melissa Click is. She entered the story after former President Wolfe resigned. Students were celebrating on the MU campus, and it led to confrontations between reporters and demonstrators. You’ve probably seen this video:
There have been a lot of headlines floating around since then about Click, and some of these have implied or directly said she is part of the Missouri School of Journalism faculty. Importantly, she is actually a member of the College of Arts and Science, and had a courtesy appointment to the School of Journalism. However, she has never taught a journalism course at the school, so referring to her as a journalism professor is highly misleading.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that Click has since resigned that courtesy appointment to the Journalism School. That led to more confusion as headlines oversimplified her move: “University of Missouri Professor Who Confronted Photographer Quits Journalism Post.” While technically accurate, the shorthand interpretation of that kind of headline leads to a common misconception that Click had a teaching role in the Journalism School and that she no longer has a job. I know I've had half of a dozen people tell me they think she's resigned, period, not understanding she's just resigned the courtesy appointment. As of this writing, she still has her job as a Communications professor.
2. It wasn't just student protests that led to the ouster of MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.
Causality is always a tough egg to crack, and closed Board of Curators meetings and “resignations” make it hard to say, definitively, why Loftin and Wolfe are out of their jobs. The case that protests by Concerned Student 1950, hunger striker Jonathan Butler, and members of the MU football team caused Tim Wolfe’s resignation, however, are pretty strong. Wolfe's resignation or removal from office was the sole action that Butler said would end his hunger strike and the MU football team joined that call Saturday night. By Sunday night the Board of Curators called an emergency meeting, and by 10 a.m. on Monday Wolfe was resigning.
Loftin’s removal, however, was not a request made by Butler or the MU football team. The much more focused effort to remove Loftin from office came from MU faculty members and graduate students, and had less to do with racial issues on campus.
This timeline by The Maneater helps detail a series of bungled situations by the administration of the Columbia campus, which resulted in, among other things, intense pressure from state legislators and graduate students forming a group called the Forum on Graduate Rights after planned cuts to their health benefits and tuition waivers.
There were a lot of whispers on campus about mutiny by faculty this fall and it materialized on November 4, when the MU English Department cast a 26-0 vote of no confidence in Loftin, with the hope other departments would follow its lead. On November 8, the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures followed suit with a 28-0 vote of no confidence.
Pivotally, news broke Monday afternoon that nine deans from key departments on campus sent a letter to Tim Wolfe and the MU Board of Curators Monday requesting Loftin’s dismissal, claiming Loftin created a “toxic environment through threat, fear and intimidation."
Wolfe resigned shortly after 10 a.m. on Monday, Loftin didn’t announce his planned move away from his Chancellor position until after a more than six-hour-long closed meeting of the Board of Curators, in which the board would have had time to review the letter from the deans.
3. But Wolfe wasn't always the focus for student protests.
While I just spent time laying out the case of why Loftin was not forced out by Concerned Student 1950, early on he was actually the main focus of student protesters upset with inaction on racist issues on and off the MU campus. Well before Concerned Student 1950 drew attention to the issue, there were rallies on campus under the slogan “Racism lives here,” which birthed #loftincantexplain on Twitter. Students used it to air grievances directed to Loftin on a number of issues, but largely those related to racial concerns on campus. However, after a white student verbally assaulted students rehearsing for a Legion of Black Collegians Homecoming Court event on campus, Loftin came out strong and quick and then instituted mandatory diversity training for faculty, staff and new students.
While Loftin may have earned points with student protestors at Homecoming, Wolfe solidified his role as the focus of the protests. If you haven’t seen this video of Wolfe’s car being stopped by Concerned Student 1950, you need to watch it. The whole thing. If you haven't seen it, it will help explain where this all started:
I’m editorializing a bit here, but I believe if Wolfe had handled this situation differently, he may still have a job today. He seemed to think the same thing in his apology he issued three days before he resigned. Jonathan Butler was one of the students standing in front of the car as the driver tried to maneuver around the students, while Wolfe said virtually nothing. People along the parade route chanted "MIZ-ZOU" to try to drown out the demonstrators. On Twitter, Concerned Student 1950 still points to this as a key example of the climate on campus they find unacceptable. The Homecoming parade was on Oct. 10. Butler's hunger strike began November 2. Refer to the Maneater timeline above for more info about incidents in between.
Wolfe met with students face-to-face the day after the hunger strike began, but no meaningful dialogue was created. Listen to the raw audio of the interaction. It was too late.
On November 6, Wolfe had this interaction with demonstrators in Kansas City:
The next day, members of the MU football joined the call for Wolfe's removal.
4. These types of incidents aren't new at MU, and past administrations have tried to address racism and diversity on campus.
As we documented on Intersection last year, racial tensions in Columbia and on the MU campus have deep roots. But for many looking on this story from outside Columbia, they may not realize history has repeated itself very quickly.
The incidents on the MU campus this year are not unprecedented. In March 2010, two white MU students dropped cotton balls in front of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center on campus. In February 2011, there was racially-charged graffiti on a dormitory. These incidents prompted national attention, and ongoing conversations about racial issues on campus. They also resulted in the creation of an initiative called One Mizzou, which aimed to change the culture at MU. Former MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said, “as chancellor of the university, this truly is the proudest moment that I have had.” But Deaton announced his retirement two years later, and the initiative completely fizzled out under the new administration.