The president of the University of Missouri system resigned Monday amid mounting criticism of his handling of racism on the school's campus network.
"This university is in pain right now ... and it needs healing," President Tim Wolfe said at a meeting Monday of the system's governing Board of Curators in Columbia.
"We have to stop yelling at each other to work problems out and focus on how we can improve the day and the future and not focus on the past," Wolfe said.
Wolfe's exit came two days after black members of Mizzou's football team said they would not play, and a week into a graduate student's vow not to eat until Wolfe left office. Later in the day, R. Bowen Loftin, chancellor of the system's flagship campus in Columbia, announced his resignation, effective at the end of the year.
"To those who have suffered, I apologize on behalf of the university for being slow to respond to experiences that are unacceptable and offensive in our campus communities and in our society," said Donald Cupps, chairman of the Board of Curators.
Cupp said the system's first chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer would be appointed within 90 days as part of a review all system policies.
"Significant changes are required to move us forward," he said. "The board is committed to making those changes."
The developments are the culmination of two months of unrest over the administration's response to complaints of racial slurs and harassment, which many students criticized as lackluster.
Black students say they've been taunted by white students using racial slurs, but protesters have also complained about homophobic incidents and other hateful attacks, most recently on Oct. 24, when a swastika was scrawled in human feces on a dormitory wall.
Wolfe had repeatedly refused to step down, and as recently as Sunday had proclaimed his commitment to "ongoing dialogue" and the development of a diversity strategy due in April.
But the developments on the football team thrust the debate onto the national spotlight. The chairman of the state's House Higher Education Committee said it had become clear that Wolfe could "no longer effectively lead." Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill pressed the university to act. The university system's governing board responded by calling an emergency meeting.
That is where Wolfe appeared Monday morning, appearing to hold back tears as he announced that he would step down.
"I've thought and prayed about this decision. It's the right to do," Wolfe said.
Wolfe said there had been frustration on both sides, but he blamed himself for failing to communicate well with protesters as debate roiled the school's predominantly white main campus in Columbia.
The protests began soon after the start of the fall semester, when the head of the student government reported that he'd been taunted with a racial epithet while walking on campus. At first, protesters focused their complaints on Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. But the focus gradually shifted to Wolfe.
On Oct. 10, protesters blocked a red convertible he was riding in during the school's homecoming parade. Wolfe's car drove away, which he later regretted as making it seem as if he didn't care.
That incident was followed meetings between protesters and Wolfe, which seemed to get nowhere. A growing number of critics called for him to quit or be fired.
"The question really is, why did we get to this very difficult situation?" Wolfe said. "It is my belief that we stopped listening to each other."
He mentioned by name Jonathan Butler, the graduate student and activist who announced Nov. 2 that he was going on a hunger strike until Wolfe left.
"This is not, I repeat, not, the way change should come about," Wolfe said.
Wolfe said he hoped his resignation, effective immediately, would give the university a better chance "to heal and start talking again."