Guest column: Campus racism, Missouri’s leaders fall victim to their own inaction

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Frustration and anger that had built for months over racial incidents at the University of Missouri resulted in the resignations last week of its president and its chancellor.

Protests led by African-American students who call themselves Concerned Student 1950, the year that blacks were first admitted to the university, galvanized the football team, graduate students and faculty on behalf of the cause. A graduate student named Jonathan Butler became the face of the movement when he began a hunger strike Nov. 2.

With the backing of its coach, the football team threatened to boycott Saturday’s game against Brigham Young University unless President Tim Wolfe stepped down. With millions of dollars in sports revenue at stake, his resignation was only a matter of time.

Wolfe had angered many by appearing indifferent to student concerns about a series of racial incidents. The student government president, who is black, said in September that riders in a pickup truck taunted him with racial slurs. Last month, members of a black student group said slurs were directed at them by a white student.

Instead of addressing these and similar concerns, Wolfe was largely silent until the campus protests. On Thursday the university appointed Michael Middleton, a former deputy chancellor and one of its first black law school graduates, to be interim president.

Middleton and his colleagues must move expeditiously to defuse tensions. Students of goodwill should be eager to begin a new chapter that recognizes the dignity of all persons, regardless of their background. Others must be reminded that, in a civil society, that must be their attitude, too.