Apparently, this is the way to get attention of the administration on college campuses these days: threaten to cut off $1 million football revenues.
A student engaged in a week-long hunger strike wasn’t able to get the university’s president to address the problem of racism on campus. So, black football players, with the support of other players and coaches, have stopped practicing and have threatened not to play in the scheduled games.
In response to mounting racial tensions at the University of Missouri and an administration’s perceived failure to address students’ concerns, members of the school’s football team have threatened to boycott its remaining games, leaving administrators reeling and emboldening student activists who have been demanding a change in leadership.
Like all such protests, there’s a larger context. This is, of course, the state where, fifteen months ago, Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer.
“The demonstrations by these students are a reflection of where things are going nationally in terms of people being fed up with intolerance,” said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, a St. Louis minister heavily involved in the Ferguson protests. “The notion that the administration would not take a very strong no-tolerance policy toward hatred of any kind is just unconscionable. And the response to the absence of that is what you’re seeing now.”
And this is a president who was hired to run the university like a corporation.
University of Missouri curators saw Wolfe as an ideal successor to Gary Foresee, a former Sprint Nextel CEO who had become the first non-academic to run the college system. Even their praise was couched in business jargon.
“He can sell to others the vital importance of our university,” board of curators chair Warren Erdman told the Rolla Daily News. . .
“I’ve had the great fortune to work with a lot of different companies and executives,” he told the St. Louis Business Journal. “There’s a six degrees of separation and we can get access. Even if you don’t have a personal relationship, you can use your LinkedIn network and can typically find a mutual friend who can initiate an introduction.”
It quickly became clear that Wolfe was being brought in to cut costs in a state where legislators were eager to slash taxes, depriving the university of revenue. . .
One of Wolfe’s first acts was to approve a three percent tuition hike, drawing the ire of parents and students.
A few months later, Wolfe stirred anger again by shutting down the university’s highly regarded publishing house in order to save $400,000 a year. After an outcry from professors and authors across the country, however, Wolfe changed course.
The controversy was heightened by the fact that Wolfe was, at the same time, pushing for a $72 million expansion of the university’s football stadium.
Last year, the board of curators voted to extend Wolfe’s contract, praising him for his business-minded approach.
“President Wolfe has thoughtfully transformed our strategic planning process in a way that focuses our limited resources on priorities while reducing or eliminating waste and redundancies,” the board said in a statement.
This semester, however, Wolfe’s corporate cost-cutting appeared to go too far. Just a few days before the start of the semester, the university announced it was eliminating subsidies that graduate students use to pay for health insurance.
Graduate students revolted. Thousands, including Butler, protested against the cuts. They issued demands and walked out of classes. Ultimately, the university relented and restored the subsidies.