COLUMBIA — Missouri lawmakers called Sunday afternoon for UM System President Tim Wolfe to step down in response to the escalating tension between student protesters and Wolfe's administration.
Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff, and chairman of the Missouri House Committee on Higher Education, said the university system's reaction to the protests on campus are only the latest in a series of mistakes. He called Wolfe's reaction to the protesters' concerns about race relations on campus "callous."
"After all of this, it has become clear, that Mr. Wolfe can no longer effectively lead the University of Missouri System," Cookson said in an emailed statement.
"He should show leadership in his final official act and step aside, failing that the University of Missouri system Board of Curators should remove him.
"Without this common sense approach, it will be incumbent for the Governor and the General Assembly to come up with a plan to right the ship at this extremely important public asset."
Rep. Caleb Jones, R-Columbia, also called for Wolfe's resignation Sunday afternoon.
"The lack of leadership Mizzou has been dealing with for months has finally reached the point of being a national embarrassment," Jones told The Missouri Times. "It's time for a change in leadership and to start the healing process."
At about 9 p.m. Sunday, Assistant House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, sent a statement on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus calling for Wolfe's resignation.
"Racism has deep roots at the University of Missouri, which was built by slave labor, barred black students from admission until 1950 and hasn’t always proven welcoming to minority students since that time," McCann Beatty said in a statement.
"Although history is immutable, a better future can be shaped if we are willing to take the difficult steps necessary to make it so."
"It has become increasingly clear in recent days that UM System President Tim Wolfe is not the person to tackle the university's racial problems and a build future for the institution that all Missourians can be proud of.
"For the good of the UM System, President Wolfe needs to step down without delay, and the Board of Curators must immediately address the demands of minority students."
Other public officials, including U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and Attorney General Chris Koster, also commented on the campus unrest.
The statements came a day after Missouri football players announced they would not participate in any football-related activities until Wolfe resigns or is removed from office. The players made the decision in solidarity with MU graduate student Jonathan Butler, who is on a hunger strike until Wolfe is removed from office. Butler has not eaten since Nov. 2.
Butler made the decision to go on a hunger strike a few days after Wolfe refused to interact with students who stopped his car during the Oct. 10 Homecoming Parade to protest how the university has handled racial discrimination on campus.
A few weeks later the group of student protesters, called Concerned Student 1950, issued a list of demands including Wolfe's removal, an increase in the number of black faculty and staff and enforcement of mandatory racial awareness and inclusion training for students, faculty and staff. Members of the group have camped out on Mel Carnahan Quadrangle in solidarity with Butler and promise to stay until Wolfe is out of office among other issues.
On Sunday, Wolfe released a statement that made no mention of an intention to leave office. In his statement, Wolfe said his administration is working on a "systemwide diversity and inclusion strategy" and will "share next steps as soon as they are confirmed."
"In the meantime, I am dedicated to ongoing dialogue to address these very complex societal issues as they affect our campus community," he said.
A few hours before Wolfe released his statement, Gov. Jay Nixon released a statement as well.
"Racism and intolerance have no place at the University of Missouri or anywhere in our state," he said. "Our colleges and universities must be havens of trust and understanding. These concerns must be addressed to ensure the University of Missouri is a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion."
McCaskill, and MU alumna, issued a statement Sunday afternoon asking the Board of Curators, which can remove Wolfe from his position, to take a strong stand against racism.
"At this point, I think it is essential that the University of Missouri Board of Curators send a clear message to the students at Mizzou that there is an unqualified commitment to address racism on campus," she said. "As a graduate who cares deeply about Mizzou, I'm confident that my university can and will do better in supporting an environment of tolerance and inclusion."
Koster followed suit and also asked that the board condemn acts of racism on campus and quickly address future incidents.
"I also encourage the the immediate formation of a task force to address issues raised by Concerned Student 1950, made up of student members, faculty representatives, and concerned citizens," he said in a statement.
Not all lawmakers who released statements were critical of Wolfe. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said in a statement that the "abhorrent acts of a dissident few" should not drive university policy," according to the statement.
"While I respect the right to peaceful protest and sincerely pray for the health and safety of all involved, I cannot ignore the necessity of law and order at our universities. Student concerns must be listened to and heard out. There is a process for that. However, our universities cannot be run by individuals making demands or using extreme actions.
"The Board of Curators is in place to make informed decisions and govern, and they must be free to do so. Otherwise, chaos ensues and no student is served by that."
Supervising editors are Jeanne Abbott and Daniela Sirtori-Cortina.