Debate Forum 11/17/15

Does Alma Matter?
Should the University of Missouri’s president have resigned?

By Tim Walker

 

In a move which calls to mind the 1960s and the days of civil rights unrest, anti-war protests and student activism, students attending the University of Missouri were recently successful in their demands that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe step down due to his inability to address, to their satisfaction, concerns about overt racism on campus. On Monday, Nov. 9, President Wolfe and University Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin both resigned from their respective offices as a result of the student protests.

While students complain that a climate of racism has existed at the university for decades and that their complaints have never been adequately addressed, the current controversy dates back to Sept. 12, when Missouri Students Association President Payton Head turned to social media with his complaints that men in a pickup truck on campus had repeatedly called him a racial epithet.

“Last night”, Head’s post began, “As I was walking through campus, some guys riding on the back of a pickup truck decided that it would be okay to continuously scream (the N-word) at me. I really just want to know why my simple existence is such a threat to society. … Is it weird that I think that I have the right to feel safe here too? … ”

After Head’s post went viral, racially-motivated events seemed to occur with increasing frequency. A video response to the complaints from University Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin was deemed an insufficient response. Graduate student Jonathan Butler began a hunger strike on Nov. 2. Students began boycotting school merchandise, dining and event services.

On Nov. 8, the University of Missouri football team’s black players announced they would join the boycott and not participate in football activities until President Tim Wolfe was removed from office.

Opponents of the men’s resignations say the two men should not have given in, that leaving their offices was a mistake and a result of political correctness gone too far. “I think it’s just disgusting,” said Republican candidate Donald Trump on Fox News. echoing the sentiments of many. “I think the two people who resigned are weak, ineffective people. When they resigned, they set something in motion that’s going to be a disaster for the next long period of time.”

Proponents of the president’s actions, however, applauded the actions and countered they were necessary, and that the university has failed to respond to decades of complaints about the racist environment on campus. Students have the right to make their voices and complaints heard, and our universities have a duty to address those concerns. “It’s time to address structural racism on college campuses,” Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted.

Has a line been crossed here? Should University of Missouri President Wolfe and Chancellor Loftin have resigned, or should they have stayed in office and worked to address the complaints effectively? Are the two men victims of our desire for immediate satisfaction to any situation? Is this a win for the students, or a loss for all of us—not just in academics, but in our daily lives?

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their 2 children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach him atTimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Presidential primary school

By Benjamin Tomkins

 

The answer to the question of whether Tim Wolfe should have resigned as president of the University of Missouri is a straightforward one when it comes to the school’s trustees: yes he should have resigned. The football players weren’t going to play because of you, so even if it came from forgetting to close the bathroom door all the way when you went to the can last week, you have met the criteria for “needing to resign.”

This is not unclear given the circumstances. I grew up in a town where high school football players magically became eligible to play, despite their grades, at the direction of the highest levels of administration, and if anyone wants to find me for the purposes of initiating a civil libel suit, feel free—please and thanks—to contact the DCP and get right on that. I am waiting by my phone for you. I repeat: in a town where football means everything, if a team isn’t on the field then administration has failed.

However, implicit in that blunt fact surrounding Tim Wolfe’s resignation is the narrative of the student/administration relationship in toto. Complaints were filed over and over, and the overwhelming frustration of the students was that administration was doing nothing substantive to address a foundational for a healthy society. Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike, @ConcernedStudent1950 was almost pepper sprayed for a peaceful protest and Missouri Students Association President Payton Head was called the n-word.

Excuse me, he was not called the n-word: he was called a nigger. This is 2015, and when someone is called that word out of hatred, we should not allow ourselves the relief of sanitizing it to ameliorate our discomfort. By doing so we are extending a courtesy to the very people who used it as a hate word, and wiping the sweat off our brow when the heat lamps of ugly social truths are burning our faces.

Tim Wolfe mopped his brow and had a mint julep in the shade. He had protestors blocking his car at the homecoming parade—his own students, mind you—and did nothing to address them. Chancellor Loftin offered a meager diversity-training program and a 59 second YouTube video shot on a webcam in his living room because he couldn’t be troubled to put on a suit and call the university PR committee. Tim Wolfe offered a response that was akin to “yeah, racism exists. I wish it didn’t, but my coffee’s almost ready, sooooo…”

The message from administration over and over was quite simply, “this is all very uncomfortable, and we’d really love it if you let us off the hook so we don’t have to deal with the anxiety of *whispered* ‘the n-word.’” Then, miracle of miracles, when the black members of the football team chose not to play and made their problem a problem for white people too, Tim Wolfe somehow felt compelled both morally and spiritually to act.

Alinsky would have been proud of the football team’s incredibly insightful identification of the leverage they possessed, and the school should be thanking their lucky stars he’s dead, because if a phone call had been placed the protest would have probably involved occupying all the bathroom stalls on campus and making white people very actually crap their pants over the football situation. Finally, as if we needed any further convincing that there was, if not zero empathy, at least zero courage and will to act, Tim Wolfe’s attempt at martyrdom in his resignation speech is the real bitters in the gin. Here are my favorites:

“To our students: from Concerned Student 1950 to our grad students, football players and other students, the frustration and anger that I see is clear, real, and I don’t doubt it for a second.”

That’s true. You doubted it for months, not seconds.

“Change comes from listening, learning, caring and conversation. We have to respect each other enough to stop yelling at each other and start listening, and quit intimidating each other.”

That’s very carefully worded. He’s not telling white racists to stop yelling, start listening and quit intimidating, he’s talking about the conflict between administration and the protesters. I highly doubt those particular words are admonition administration.

“Unfortunately this has not happened. And I just want to stand before you today, and I take full responsibility for this frustration, and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred.”

That is as close to an apology as he gets: an acknowledgement of frustration and inaction. Apparently those two things just coexist rather than there being some causal relationship.

“I truly love everybody here and the very institution, and my decision to resign comes out of love, not hate. I’d like to read some Scripture that’s given me strength. I hope it provides you with some strength as well, as we think about this next. I have to also to give credit to my daughter, who reminded me of the Scripture.

“Psalm 46 verse 1: ‘The Lord is my refuge and my strength, my very present help in trouble.’”

For real? Wow. I think “whatever you do unto the least of my brethren you do unto me,” would have gone a bit farther, and the fact that it’s the best he could do indicates precisely why, until he left, nothing could change.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Cop out

By Mary E. Tyler

In everyday situations, there are teachable moments. The University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe should have remained at the institution to right a wrong. The resignation created a missed opportunity for him, the faculty and staff, and especially the students. In the heat of conflict, you don’t stop or remove yourself from the situation; you work through the difficulties, emotions and pain to find workable solutions and you resolve to hold each accountable for the work.

At National Conference for Community and Justice of Greater Dayton (NCCJ), we find all forms of oppression, prejudice and discrimination to be wrong. No form of discrimination is acceptable. We work to eliminate classism, racism, sexism and discrimination based on physical and mental disabilities, religion, gender and other forms of bigotry impacting our society. As stated by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We teach our students to first respect themselves and then provide them with the tools to have courageous conversations about various forms of discrimination. We use these discussions to open hearts and minds to hear and understand other viewpoints. It’s obvious that skillful and compassionate listening is a missing element on the campus. There’s no doubt that race is a difficult and a sensitive subject for most of us. However, until we as a society begin to struggle openly and honestly about our feelings in a respectful manner, the Missouri situation will remain the norm.

While the events at the University of Missouri have become a wakeup call to other higher education institutions in the country, many companies and organizations should view this as an opportunity to check out their institutions. In our line of work, we hear examples of workplace bullying, inappropriate comments towards women and people of color and intolerable employment practices. When the students found themselves tired of being tired, they spoke up about the injustices affecting them. Expect this to happen at workplaces across the country.

The basic demographics of our community are changing and have shifted the balance of our organizations to include people of all colors, different religions, divergent cultures and contrasting backgrounds. Often, our co-workers are people where English is their second, third or even fourth language. Today’s workforce covers five generations and often includes people with disabilities as well as various gender identities. To be successful in business, we need to develop an understanding and comfort level with varied cultures.

As the head of a university or any other institution or company, we have to surround ourselves with individuals whose worldview may be different from our own. It’s important to include colleagues who are candid and unafraid to share their viewpoints as well as individuals who will respectfully challenge our thinking, assumptions and direction. In one of only a few studies to empirically examine the implications of organizational diversity, sociologist Cedric Herring found that a workforce/organization comprised of associates of both genders and varying racial backgrounds resulted in positive business outcomes.

Too often the leaders or individuals are intentionally insulated or in some cases totally oblivious to what is going on in their institutions. A confident leader seeks a diverse team to help him or her produce superior results for the organization, which includes a culture that values and promotes diversity and inclusion.  Workplace diversity is a business
necessity!

The president missed an opportunity to create an organizational culture where he and his administration could become leaders who create opportunities of access for others, eliminate barriers that divide people, seek out differing voices and truly listen, take responsibility for connecting to others, mentor those who are different from them and value differences and respect the rights of others.

While I applaud the students’ activism, it is my prayer that the students at Missouri and other campuses remain diligent in finding workable solutions in a respectable manner and hold each other accountable for the work. They have demonstrated their ability to affect change. I trust the students will use the same vigor, intellect and empathy to address other issues on their campus. This is not the time to remain silent when suspected mental health issues of classmates are neglected, abusive behavior continues and violence against other students occur on your campuses.

This is a teachable moment in our time. At NCCJ we believe in redemption—we believe in giving second and even third chances to get it right. President Wolfe should have been given a chance and expected to right the wrong on the campus. Let’s not miss another opportunity to grow in understanding by addressing challenges together with an approach that is respectful, genuine and productive.

Mary E. Tyler is the executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice of Greater Dayton (NCCJ). As the chief diversity officer, Mary is instrumental in helping adults and young people eliminate bias, bigotry and all forms of discrimination. Mary’s life has been devoted to serving others, ensuring their right to dignity and defending their personal choices.

 

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Tim Walker
Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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