How should college administrators respond to racism?

Through all the reporting of the University of Missouri situation, I can’t help but think the “offenses” of the University President are not the sort for which one should lose one’s job.  Does anybody actually think for a second that Wolfe condones racism on campus?  Does a college president have to issue an official statement saying “racism is wrong and has no place on our campus” anytime somebody hears the n-word?  Everybody already knows this– right?  And everybody already knows the university president surely believes this– right?  So why does he need to lose his job over this.  Now, it would be one thing if there was something institutional about racism at University of Missouri (that is, more insitutional there than institutional racism is anywhere else, of course), but the events that formed the initial basis of the protests seemingly have nothing to with Missouri as an institution accept for the fact that some of the people who attend it (or at least drive through campus) are racists.  From Joe Nocera’s summary:

Now consider the following timeline, which The Columbia Missourianrecently published.

On Sept. 12, Payton Head, the president of the Missouri Student Association, takes to Facebook to describe a campus incident during which the most vile of anti-black slurs was hurled at him. A second racial incident occurs on Oct. 5. By Oct. 10, dissatisfied by the administration’s tepid response, a group called Concerned Student 1950 stages a protest during the homecoming parade. Ten days later, the group issues eight demands, including “an increase in the percentage of black faculty and staff,” as well as Wolfe’s removal from office.

A swastika drawn with feces [ed. WTF???]  is discovered in a bathroom on Oct. 24. Concerned Student 1950 has an inconclusive meeting with Wolfe three days later. Jonathan Butler, a protest leader, announces a hunger strike on Nov. 2. Another meeting with Wolfe takes place the next day, during which he promises, essentially, to do better.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that every single non HBCU college in the country has racists on campus (and anti-Semites, which the Swastika thing is nuts and awful and somebody seriously needs some mental help, but not what we typically think of as “racism”).  It’s horrible that these things happened, but I imagine that Black students face similar events (unfortunately, obviously) on campuses all around the country without official university statements, much less university presidents losing their jobs.  Now, maybe there really are problems of institutional racism at Missouri that go above and beyond the problems that exist in our society that university leadership should have done something about.  I’m entirely open to that possibility.  It’s just the reporting I’ve seen so far does not really show that to be the case.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to How should college administrators respond to racism?

  1. r. jenrette says:

    I agree that based on the complaints that have been reported on this Missouri incident, it does seem like overkill. If there is more to it, then the protesting group should include these problems first as a reason for the group’s demands.
    Trying to bar the press from the demonstrations is self destructive for a group who depends on lots of publicity for maximum pressure. It’s pretty outrageous anyway to interfere with the free press on public property. And if the complaining group demands free speech for itself, it’s pretty outrageous to try to deny it to others.
    There is a link here to the PC Prof. Greene described in a recent blog.

  2. Pingback: Refreshing View of the Missouri University Protests | Tarheel Red

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