By DEBRA J. SAUNDERS
Activists at the University of Missouri just won themselves a trophy Monday. After weeks of protests against the president of the University of Missouri System, Tim Wolfe —and, most importantly, after the Mizzou football team threatened to boycott games until Wolfe quit—the administrator caved. “It is my belief we stopped listening to each other. We have to respect each other enough to stop yelling at each other and start listening and quit intimidating each other,” said the clearly intimidated Wolfe.
The New York Times attributed student and faculty demands that Wolfe resign to “racial tensions.” Black students report being called the N-word. In October, someone used feces to draw a swastika in the university’s Gateway Hall. Activists formed the group Concerned Student 1950, named after the year the University of Missouri first admitted African-Americans.
I share their anger at demeaning, racist language and the yahoos who drove through campus Sunday in trucks with Confederate flags. I just don’t understand what Wolfe had to do with those episodes. Critics charge that Wolfe had become isolated. The fact that head coach Gary Pinkel supported his players’ threatened boycott suggests that is the case.
Last month, when protesters surrounded Wolfe’s car during the homecoming parade, Wolfe’s driver revved the engine. One protester told The Washington Post the car bumped another protester. Over the weekend, when students surrounded Wolfe and demanded that he define “systematic oppression,” he answered, “Systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.” An enraged student shouted back, “Did you just blame us for systematic oppression?”
In short, Wolfe made a mistake fatal to any academic career. A university administrator is supposed to preface every statement to students who badger him with a phony remark about how impressed he is that students really care. No matter how rudely students behave, no matter how unrealistic their pursuits, the modern university president must pretend he finds their antics engaging.
That’s a difficult task, given the eight demands dictated by Concerned Student 1950. No. 1: Wolfe must give a handwritten apology, read it publicly and “acknowledge his white male privilege.” Next: After his public humiliation, Wolfe had to go. Also: The group demanded a “mandatory” racial awareness and inclusion curriculum “vetted, maintained, and overseen by a board” composed of “students, staff, and faculty of color.” That is, the activists demanded that Mizzou indoctrinate all students with their special brand of racial politics. Their demands present the university not as a haven for an epic battle of ideas but as a steamroller for political conformity.
CNN’s Jake Tapper asked UM journalism professor Cynthia Frisby what Wolfe had done to become the focus of protest. She answered, “It was the lack of response.”
Not displaying sufficient anguish apparently is all it takes to represent “systematic oppression.” After Wolfe’s resignation, students gathered in the quad and sang “We Shall Overcome.” They think they did something positive, when to the contrary, they trivialized racism.