A private email written by Tim Wolfe, former president of the University of Missouri, was made public last week. In the email, which was intended for some of his close supporters, Wolfe describes the events and circumstances that led to his resignation and seems unwilling to take any blame for what happened on campus. His email serves as a plea to those closest to him to negotiate with the Board of Curators for compensation from the university and his future role with the board.
After a series of walkouts, protests and boycotts and one student participating in a hunger strike in response to the university’s repeated inaction towards incidents of racism on campus, Wolfe stepped down from his position on Nov. 9. At the time he said, “I take full responsibility for this frustration and inaction.”
But Wolfe’s tune may have changed in his recent email, which was published in full by the Columbia Tribune.
In his email, Wolfe writes, “Because there has been no resolution, I now have grave concerns about the future of the University.” But this poses the question: where were these concerns while Wolfe was president during which time a swastika made of feces appeared on campus, an intoxicated white student yelled racial slurs at a meeting of the Legion of Black Collegians and Wolfe struck Black student protestors with his car
But Wolfe says it was actually his refusal to discuss publicly the events leading to his resignation that drove his reputation down: “Unfortunately, my silence has resulted in my name being unfairly attached to the issues of racism and incompetent leadership.” His repeated inaction when these “issues of racism” were brought to attention were not his fault, but rather the fault of everyone else around him.
Wolfe proceeds to criticize different people, groups and actions that he claims contributed to the campus’s problems including the university’s football team, saying the team’s “actions were the equivalent of throwing gasoline on a small fire.” At the time of the demonstrations, the players threatened to boycott an upcoming game, as well as any upcoming football events, if Wolfe did not resign a decision that would have cost the university at least $1 million in lost advertising. (Incidentally, Wolfe did not announce his resignation until after the football team declared its boycott.) According to Wolfe, the $1 million that could have been lost is “a pittance of the threatened loss of state funding that could be as much as $500 million.”
Wolfe’s reasoning has a major flaw, though one that was already discovered the hard way by state lawmakers who tried to take away the players’ right to protest last December by threatening to revoke scholarships: the team does not operate on state funding, according to the school’s student-athlete handbook.
Wolfe also criticized head coach Gary Pinkel for choosing to stand in solidarity with his players and supporting them in their decision not to play. Wolfe did not see it this way, saying the coach “missed an important opportunity to teach his players a valuable life lesson. The end result could be a financial catastrophe for our university.”
Following Wolfe’s resignation, the university appointed Michael Middleton to serve as interim president. Middleton, who is Black, obtained his bachelor’s and law degree from the university and, along with some of his brothers in Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, founded the Legion of Black Collegians. Just like today, the group presented to the university a list of demands to grow diversity efforts on campus. Middleton eventually served as deputy chancellor at the school for 17 years before retiring last summer, at which time he continued in a part-time role in the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative.
But according to Wolfe, Middleton failed in his role at the university and should not have been the choice for interim president, questioning why the school chose “the leader who had failed miserably in his capacity as the long time leader on diversity issues on the MU Campus”
“Why did Michael Middleton choose not to stop the growing protest in spite of his relationship with Jonathan Butler [leader of Concerned Student 1950] and the minority students on the MU campus” Wolfe questioned.
But Middleton had in fact been meeting with Concerned Student 1950 as the racial tensions were building, even before the university formally recognized them as an organization. It was Wolfe who put off the group’s pleas and demands for so long, including when he drove into protestors with his car at a school event.
Loftin also receives backlash from Wolfe. According to the former president, Loftin like Middleton should actually have been responsible for the conflicts brought to the university’s attention by Concerned Student 1950, not him. Following a series of crucial mistakes made by Loftin unrelated to the issues of racism plaguing the campus, Wolfe writes, “[Loftin] shifted the focus of Concerned Student 1950 to me from him once he discovered his job was in jeopardy in late September.”
But both one of the group’s organizers and Loftin himself insisted this is not the case.
“Loftin didn’t in any way influence our motivation behind things,” Ayanna Poole, of Concerned Student 1950, said. “We had already shifted to Wolfe on our own because Wolfe had more power to make that systematic change happen on the university’s campus.”
“Our students are highly intelligent, and I have a deep respect for them,” Loftin said of Wolfe’s accusation. “To think that I could manipulate them in any way is unbelievable.”
The closest Wolfe comes to taking responsibility for his own inaction is only to say he put his trust in the wrong people, primarily Loftin: “As I have stated, I am willing to accept some of the responsibility for what happened. I made the mistake of hiring Bowen Loftin and I trusted the Board of Curators to support my decisions and to do what is in the best interest of the University of Missouri rather than to cave into politicians and special interest groups with agendas that are contrary to the mission of the university.”
Despite his refusal to take responsibility for anything that happened on campus, Wolfe ends his email with a call to action for his supporters “to pick up the phone, or at a minimum send an email, to the board members below and express your concern over the current situation and tell them to resolve my contract negotiation so that I can continue to play a significant positive role in the future” implying he played a positive role during his time as presidency.