The recent events at the University of Missouri have shown both a leadership void in key positions at the school as well as strong leadership values on campus.
The two main examples of a lack of leadership appear obvious, as University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin both resigned on Monday amid social unrest on campus. Wolfe’s resignation was tied to the hunger strike of graduate student Jonathan Butler, a movement that escalated with the Missouri football team’s pledge to not practice or play until the hunger strike had ended.
Loftin’s resignation, which came just hours after Wolfe’s announcement, has also been linked to several reported incidents of racism on campus. Several Missouri college deans had signed a letter earlier this week calling for Loftin’s removal from office. Their concerns included the elimination and eventual reinstatement of graduate assistant health insurance as well as the elimination of the vice chancellor for health sciences position. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune and other media outlets, the deans claimed Loftin created a “toxic environment through threat, fear and intimidation.”
Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel was lauded by some for his leadership in uniting his team in the cause. In his tweet on Sunday, he used the hashtag #ConcernedStudent1950, saying, “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.”
On Tuesday, however, during a radio interview with Kansas City’s 810 WHB, Pinkel said that an intern had added the hashtag and that it wasn’t his idea. Pinkel, as he did during Monday’s press conference, tried to distance himself away from the concerns of racial tension on campus and reiterated that the team made its decision because it was concerned about the welfare of Butler’s health.
“Did you personally support Concerned Student 1950? Are you for what they’re about?” 810 WHB Sports Director Kevin Kietzman asked Pinkel on Tuesday.
“No, not at all,” Pinkel replied. “It had nothing to do with it. It was just about a young man that was really struggling. That’s what it was about.”
Pinkel had a chance to voice his support and concern for the welfare of African-American students on the MU campus, and he chose not to do it, often sounding put off talking about the topic and not about the Tigers’ upcoming game against BYU. Pinkel reportedly declined all other interviews on Tuesday.
The campus protests on Monday showed two examples of people in leadership positions who failed the students they were supposed to lead. The first incident involved MU’s Greek Life and Leadership Assistant Director Janna Basler, who tried to force reporters away from the protesters’ campsite. When asked for her name, she said, “1950.”
The other incident gained more attention nationally, as Melissa Click, a professor in the communications department who had a courtesy appointment with the MU School of Journalism, wanted “some muscle” to move a photographer and a reporter away from the campsite. Both campus leaders, who have since apologized, forgot that there were supposed to protect the best interests of all students, not get involved in the movement. On Tuesday, Click resigned her courtesy appointment with the J-School.
Other leaders on the MU campus are showing how to lead. In a letter to alumni and friends of the School of Journalism, Dean David Kurpius noted how since he joined the school in July, it has hired an African-American advisor, is in the process of hiring an African-American professor, has held an advertising diversity summit and made restrooms accessible for transgender people.
On Tuesday night, amid rumors that the Ku Klux Klan was on campus, the university, through its official @Mizzou and @MUalert Twitter accounts, reported that it was monitoring threats on social media. This was in stark contrast to what Payton Head, the student body president who himself was a target of a racial incident earlier this year, posted on Facebook. Head wrote that the KKK “has been confirmed to be sighted on campus” but later apologized for sharing the misinformation, which led to some tense feelings among his fellow students. On Wednesday morning, the University of Missouri Police Department announced it had arrested a 19-year-old man in Rolla, Mo. — about 100 miles from the Columbia campus — for posting threats on YikYak, an anonymous location-based app.
Closer to our core audience, MizzouRec displayed leadership Tuesday night through its Twitter account, retweeting official MU updates and offering updates of its own. The rec center closed after 11 p.m. and said programs may be adjusted Wednesday, encouraging followers to be safe heading home. MizzouRec did in fact announce the cancellations of three group exercise classes Wednesday. In its tweets, MizzouRec said, “We are committed to the safety of our students and staff. Thank you for your patience.”
The University of Missouri still has a long way to go to calm the nerves of its community. An interim president is expected to be announced Wednesday after a Board of Curators meeting. More than anything, the university needs to appoint a person or persons with the best leadership skills to guide the community into the future.