“I would like to build a university of which the football team could be proud,” quipped the late, longtime University of Oklahoma President George Lynn Cross. On Monday, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe left a university of which his football team could be proud. He left everybody else puzzled.
Wolfe resigned on Monday after the football team engaged in a boycott of athletic activities and a graduate student launched a hunger strike that both promised to end when Wolfe ended his employment. The school stood to lose $1 million in a contractual penalty, to say nothing of the gate, by forfeiting Saturday’s game. They stood to lose a public relations battle in allowing the protests to continue to disrupt the campus. But they already lost much in class time by student and faculty walkouts and the reorientation of campus life from learning to protest.
“I take full responsibility for the actions that have occurred,” Wolfe explained Monday. “I have asked everybody to use my resignation to heal. Let’s focus in changing what we can change today and in the future, not what we can’t change in the past.”
What, precisely, does Wolfe take “full responsibility” for? A mob of angry students blocking the car in which he rode in a homecoming parade? That someone unknown to Tim Wolfe scribbled a swastika with human feces? That someone not named Tim Wolfe used the n-word on campus? That administrators long-since dead refused to admit African American students to the school?
His campus detractors want him to take responsibility for events beyond his responsibility on a campus of 35,000 students. His off-campus detractors would like for him to take responsibility for not arresting the foul-mouthed fascists standing in the middle of the street blocking the homecoming parade and for admitting ignorant students fond of lecturing others on their ignorance to a school that puts the universal in university by admitting four of every five applicants. Wolfe indirectly bears responsibility for his fate—just not in the way that he imagines.
The campus theatrics saw everybody playing a part. The activists feigned outrage. The administrator feigned contrition. And the off-campus observers feigned a rooting interest in the farce. The reality masked by the performance is that Wolfe, in creating the Frankenstein that killed the creator (or at least his career), acted as victim and villain here. An administrator hired for his cowardice fired for his cowardice strikes as irony rather than injustice.
The demands of the students at the Columbia, Missouri, campus, namedropping in their list of demands “racial awareness,” “inclusion curriculum,” “social justices centers,” “white male privilege,” and “systems of oppression,” demonstrates at least a rote education occurring in Mizzou’s sociology courses. But the sloganeering and chanting leaves something lacking in the critical thinking department.
Monday’s resignation happened because a university missed the circus for the sideshows. Mizzou puts football in the big tent. They put activism in the big tent. They marginalized education to the fringe of the circus encampment in Columbia. Tim Wolfe, like the people who demanded that he resign, miss the point of higher education. It’s not sports. It’s not protest. It’s, well, education.
America got one these past few days. The Mizzou mob, sadly, does not appear to be getting one in Columbia.