COLUMBIA — As interim chancellor at MU, Hank Foley is ambitiously filling his plate with issues he told the MU Faculty Council he will do his best to address.
Foley and UM System Interim President Michael Middleton attended the Faculty Council meeting Thursday afternoon to outline their goals in their new positions. Middleton said he would do what he could to move the university forward in the year that he would be acting as interim president. Foley, with two pages of notes, listed a number of issues he hopes to resolve, including discrimination at MU, graduate student employee rights, the controversy within the School of Medicine and administrative communication.
Foley first addressed discrimination.
"I'm trying to set up meetings and outreach to groups that feel like they're on the margins, that feel like they’re on the edge of our community rather than in the middle of our community," Foley said.
Foley said he spent two hours talking with MU Jewish students after they invited him to join them in a safe space at Mizzou Hillel on Wednesday. He was joined by Chuck Henson, the newly appointed interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity, and Catherine Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs. The students spoke; Foley listened and took notes, he said.
"That made me realize that it’s time for me as chancellor to also reach out to other groups that are at the edges — Muslim groups, Asian Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ and other groups," he said. "There's a sense of alienation among these groups that we can overcome."
He called on Faculty Council members to reflect on their daily lives and think about ways to make MU a more inclusive campus, stating that community and collegiality were the solutions to combating discrimination at MU.
Then, Foley turned to graduate student rights.
"I need to work with graduate students. ... We’ve got several issues there that are still hanging but I think we will fix very soon," Foley said.
He said he didn’t want to move too fast and needed to include deans and others in decisions made regarding graduate student employee rights.
"Through communication, compassion and consilience, we can really build a much better community," Foley said. "When I listened to Concerned Student 1950, that’s really their main message, I think. Their main message is inclusion, fairness and equity. And so we will work on that."
Concerned Student 1950 is an activist group of students at MU working to improve race relations on campus. The group published a list of demands that included the removal of former UM System President Tim Wolfe from office. Wolfe resigned on Nov. 9, and Middleton took on the position three days later.
At the meeting, Foley turned to a widely-reported account of discrimination on campus — the swastika that was drawn in human feces on a residence hall wall. He said he didn’t know the real intent of the act, but he knew its impact.
"A swastika sends shivers down the spines of Jewish students, Jewish faculty, Jewish staff and Jewish community members," he said. "We need to acknowledge that it is first and foremost a symbol of anti-Semitism."
Foley said acts of hatred against anyone on campus will not be tolerated.
"We probably should have said that some time ago," Foley said. "I'm saying it now. Regretfully, I wish we had said it weeks ago. I apologize that we didn't, but we are saying it now."
Foley moved to address another point of tension at MU — the School of Medicine, which he said had an ongoing set of issues unto itself. He would be attending a meeting at the School of Medicine after the Faculty Council meeting, he said, at which he would be listening, taking notes and trying to understand the best approach to addressing these issues. He also said he was in the process of bringing in an interim executive vice chancellor for health affairs to address the issues.
"I will not make decisions about the medical school," Foley said. "But I will try to find a person who can make decisions about the medical school, and I will try to be as informed as I can."
Fear and confusion broke out last week after threats against black students were made on social media, and many students expressed frustration with the lack of communication they received from the university. Foley said at the meeting that the university did a terrible job of communicating with students that night, and he recognized that students want to be updated regularly.
"With our students, they want to know every 20 minutes what the hell's going on," he said. "If we don’t know, we just still have to communicate that we don't know, is what I’ve learned."
Foley said an ad hoc crisis communication team was created Nov. 11 to improve communication with students.
"We will do better," Foley said. "I promise you we will do better."
Foley then went on to briefly name MU’s other issues. He said infrastructure issues on campus will be addressed and a new football coach will be found. He also made reference to appropriations and politics taking place in Jefferson City.
"Other than that, things are pretty much normal," he said, generating laughter among Faculty Council members.
Alex Howe, a doctoral student in the Philosophy Department and treasurer of the Graduate Professional Council, asked a question of Foley: While the university is making a number of new positions and policy changes, going through substantial administrative transition and all the while losing state and other funding, how will it be able to fulfill its promises on addressing the racial climate and graduate student rights at MU?
"These are a ton of expenditures," Howe said. "All of our revenue sources are more threatened than they've ever been. I’m worried that, while we're saying that we're dedicated to these things and I’ve no doubt that we are, we just may not have the resources."
The university will have to prioritize those issues, Foley said, and the community will have to come around to that prioritization process.
Galen Suppes, Faculty Council member and professor of chemical engineering, asked what it would take to review the UM System itself and look into alternatives to the system.
"It seems like it's time to seriously reconsider if we still need that type of a system," Suppes said.
Middleton said he didn't know what it would take, but he wouldn't stand in the way of such a study. He admitted he hadn't thought about such a proposal because he didn't have control over that approach.
"I don't know that we want to return to the pre-system days, but I'm open to anything that will strengthen and preserve the university," Middleton said.
Earlier in the Faculty Council meeting, Middleton spoke generally about his position as interim system president, which he said would last one year. He recognized the university had been through a lot, and he understood that everyone was unsure about its future, he said.
"I want to stabilize (the university)," Middleton said. "I want to make people understand how serious we are about moving this university forward in a collaborative way."
Middleton briefly listed a number of issues he said the university faces — from financial issues to academic freedom issues. He said he would work to move the university toward addressing them, but he had something to ask of the Faculty Council.
"I just ask you to be patient with us. Trust that we are about the business of moving the university forward in a way that really is taking us into a new era," Middleton said.
Other news from the faculty council meeting:
- On Dec. 7, the graduate student task force report will be released.
- Faculty Council parliamentarian and Student Affairs Committee Chairman Tim Evans will be resigning from Faculty Council on Jan. 15.
- Jeffrey Rouder with the Department of Psychological Sciences has replaced Dennis Miller, who resigned from the council effective immediately.
- The UM System Board of Curators will meet Friday to hear from student groups at MU.
- Intercampus Faculty Council, the faculty council for the system, will meet on Tuesday and hopes to speak with Concerned Student 1950. If the group is not available over the break, another meeting day will be scheduled.
Supervising editor is Jacob Steimer.