What a day! By the end of Monday’s special meeting of the university’s Board of Curators, the angry students got the resignation they wanted, and the concerned faculty and distressed deans learned that they will only have to wait six weeks to get theirs.
Jonathan Butler got to start eating again, and the football team returned to practice.
Problems solved, right?
Not quite. Now the real work begins.
Almost lost in the turmoil of the past few days have been the other seven demands from the self-named Concerned Student 1950 group that has been the driving force behind the protest that has earned headlines across the country for our university.
The one that made the headlines, of course, was that Tim Wolfe "admit to his gross negligence,” “acknowledge his white male privilege” and be removed as president. Wolfe pre-empted any motion to fire him by resigning in a tearful speech that revealed, at least to me, a sincere lover of the institution who was ill-equipped by temperament or training to play the public leadership role his job required.
In his farewell speech, he condemned racism and urged understanding with an eloquence that, had it been in evidence a year ago, might have headed off the debacle we watched unfold Monday.
Meanwhile, his more outgoing but less managerially competent underling, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, demonstrated his well-honed survival skills by managing to stay on the payroll, in his present post until Dec. 30 and then in the newly created role of “director of research facility development,” whatever that will be.
In a news release after they emerged from a long closed meeting, the curators admitted, “Significant changes are required to move us forward.” They are, they said somewhat belatedly, “committed to making those changes.”
The changes echo most, but significantly not all, the demands of the revolt leaders. For example, the students demanded a “comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum.” The curators pledged “mandatory diversity, inclusion and equity training for all faculty, staff and future students.”
The students demanded a 10-year plan to increase retention rates, sustain diversity training and “promote a more safe and inclusive campus.” The curators vowed to “create a diversity, inclusion and equity task force.”
The students demanded the hiring of more mental health professionals, “particularly those of color.” The curators pledged “a comprehensive review of student mental health services.”
However, there was one notable omission. The students demanded that, by 2017-18, the percentage of black faculty and staff be increased to 10 percent. That would require tripling the percentage of black faculty reported most recently. The curators’ response doesn’t even mention that demand.
The reasons were clear to colleagues I trust. First, there aren’t that many candidates of color who’d be considered qualified. And second, recent events and the attendant publicity have probably made those who might be candidates more dubious about signing on here.
In an after-meeting memo to the “University Community,” curators’ President Donald Cupps, a lawyer from Cassville, described the university as “a beacon of hope for everyone, from all walks of life.”
After these days of demands, it seems to me, the beacon is flashing a cautionary orange. Only one letter separates hope from hype.