KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The interim chancellor of a University of Missouri campus rocked by racial protests in November called that chapter painful Wednesday but declared the school's push toward more inclusivity is a priority.
Less than three months after taking the Columbia campus' helm, Hank Foley said during his "State of the University" speech that addressing racial matters at the school "is the right thing to do."
"One way to regard student unrest is a sign that the institution has not kept pace with change, especially with students' and the public's expectations," Foley said. "The tension around race relations and the campus climate shows that we need to do more to be fully inclusive."
Foley said having the system's troubles draw national scrutiny was difficult but added, "I'm asking our Mizzou family to come back together around a love for this great institution."
Foley took over after R. Bowen Loftin resigned Nov. 9, along with the system's president, Tim Wolfe, in the wake of unrest over the handling of racial issues. That discord included a student's hunger strike and members of the school's football team pledging to boycott the rest of their season until Wolfe was gone.
The issues surfaced again this week when Melissa Click — a tenure-seeking assistant communications professor at the Columbia campus — was charged with misdemeanor assault linked to her run-in with student journalists during the November protests.
Click, who through an attorney pleaded not guilty Tuesday, confronted a student photographer and a student videographer during the protests, calling for "muscle" to help remove the videographer from the protest area. Video of the confrontation went viral, and Click later apologized.
Amid calls by a system administrator and Republican lawmakers to fire Click, Foley told reporters this week that the university "must allow due process to play out." He said he would not rush when it comes to determining her future at the school, including a decision on tenure.
Foley's address Wednesday, which did not mention Click, came the same day several newspapers reported that Wolfe, in an email to supporters and donors after his resignation, criticized most officials involved in the turmoil leading to his exodus.
Wolfe insisted the university is "under attack" by the Missouri Legislature, rendering its governing board of curators "frozen" by the pressure, and asked the email recipients to press curators to sweeten a financial package for him that he's negotiating the university.
Messages left Wednesday with curators and Concerned Student 1950, an activist group that led protests last November, were not immediately returned.
John Fougiere, a spokesman for the university system, said Wednesday the university is aware of Wolfe's email, adding that since Wolfe's resignation, the matter has been in mediation "aimed at reaching an acceptable post-resignation agreement."
"Our position has been that any agreement would have to be consistent with the legal constraints within which a public institution such as the university operates," Fougiere said without addressing other elements of Wolfe's email.