The New York Times is reporting,
The president, Timothy M. Wolfe, had grown increasingly isolated, with opposition to his leadership reaching a crescendo in the last few days: The faculty council issued a statement of concern about him; football players said they would refuse to play until he left, potentially costing the university millions of dollars; the university’s student government on Monday demanded his ouster; and much of the faculty canceled classes for two days, in favor of a teach-in focused on race relations.
The problem is racially motivated harassment of black students that followed on the heels of the murder* of Michael Brown and the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and other cities around the country. The incidents culminated recently when someone painted a swastika with human feces on a campus dormitory wall and the administration did nothing about it. The Washington Post is reporting,
Tensions were high on campus Monday morning — with a student on a hunger strike, others camped out in solidarity, faculty members canceling classes and members of the football team threatening to boycott the rest of the season. In the morning, the Missouri Students Association, which represents the school’s undergraduates, formally called for Wolfe’s removal, with a letter decrying the administration’s silence after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, a black man, by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and charging that Wolfe had “enabled a system of racism” on the Columbia campus and had failed the students.
The graduate student who went on the hunger strike that brought this situation to a head is Jonathan Butler. In an interview with the Washington Post, five days into his hunger strike he explained why he decided to risk his life.
For me, I’m fighting for justice. It’s really plain and simple.
When you localize it to the hunger strike it really is about the environment that is on campus. We have reactionary, negligent individuals on all levels at the university level on our campus and at the university system level, and so their job descriptions explicitly say that they’re supposed to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students … but when we have issues of sexual assault, when we have issues of racism, when we have issues of homophobia, the campus climate continues to deteriorate because we don’t have strong leadership, willing to actually make change. So, for me, I’m fighting for a better tomorrow. As much as the experiences on campus have not been that great for me — I had people call me the n-word, I had someone write the n-word on the a door in my residence hall — for me it really is about a call for justice. I’m fighting for the black community on campus, because justice is worth fighting for. And justice is worth starving for.
Mr. Butler, who joined the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and learned how to use patience and peaceful protests to move mountains is a courageous and righteous young man who risked his life to force the university to acknowledge the problem and do something about it. He inspired thirty black football players to announce that they would not play another game until the president resigned and steps were taken to resolve the problem in a public manner. The head coach, Gary Pinkel, backed them 100% announcing that the team and the coaching staff would join their boycott. Michael Sam, the All-American defensive end who may have destroyed his chance to play in the NFL by publicly announcing that he was gay before the NFL draft a couple of years ago, explained to MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, who also is gay, that the football team regards itself as a family. Racist attacks against black students and players is an attack against every member of the family and that explains why the coaching staff and other players stood up for Jonathan Butler and all black students.
He also inspired many faculty members who decided to cancel their classes today and replace them with teach-ins about racism on campus and what to do about it.
I have been watching the situation unfold on a campus where only 7% of the students are black. Columbia, Missouri is only a couple of hours from Ferguson and many students are from the greater St.Louis area where there was considerable hatred and criticism directed against blacks in general and Black Lives Matter protesters in particular. Many students carried that hatred with them to the campus and expressed it publicly by harassing black students and calling them the “N” word. Despite complaints about the harassment, the administration ignored it in true ivory-tower fashion.
Jonathan Butler deserves the lion’s share of the credit for penetrating the ivory tower and forcing its detached administrators to acknowledge the hatred and racism on campus. Thanks to him and those who supported him the university community now has an opportunity to confront racism and do something about it.
He’s a true American hero and I hope President Obama will honor him by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
*I realize that a state grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, but I believe the prosecution rigged the outcome to reach that result by intentionally using the secrecy of the grand jury process. They achieved this result by controlling the evidence presented, including leading the officer through a very soft non-confrontational examination, and improperly instructing the grand jury regarding applicable law with a statute that was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, there is no appeal from the grand jury’s decision. While the prosecution could have submitted the case to a new grand jury, they had no reason to do so since they obtained the result they wanted. I predicted the outcome and warned readers that prosecutors often abuse grand jury secrecy to protect police officers who kill civilians.