By Blake Neff – The chief diversity officer at the University of Missouri (MU) has authored a letter sharply reprimanding the school’s black activist movement, urging it to stop relying on threats and impossible demands.
“If you sincerely want better relationships, the time for demands, threats and arbitrary deadlines is over — you don’t need them,” said Chuck Henson, who was appointed as MU’s interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity following massive campus protests last fall. The letter, written Thursday, was obtained and released by the Columbia Missourian Friday night.
Last week, Concerned Student 1950, the activist group that helped force out MU president Timothy Wolfe last fall, released a new set of demands, which largely reiterates previous commands that have gone unmet. Some of the demands that were emphasized included a call for an “academic bankruptcy program” (essentially letting students void the results of an entire term), an expansion in the number of black faculty and the erection of a statue of 1930s civil rights activist Lloyd Gaines on campus. Many of the demands have explicit deadlines, and the group has emphasized that the school will be made to fulfill them “by any means necessary.”
But according to Henson, the group is presenting its demands in a flatly unacceptable manner. Not only that, but many of them are impossible.
“[T]here are things, like hiring faculty or staff, or admitting students based on protected characteristics to meet a numerical target, [that] will not and cannot be done,” he said. “It is against state and federal law. It also is a bad model for a sustainable community.” Similarly, he said demands that course curricula be changed was purely the responsibility of faculty, and could not be meddled with by administrators without quashing academic freedom.
Henson also faulted activists for apparently avoiding a face-to-face meeting with school administrators.
“For my part, I have been seeking you out. I have invited you to come see me,” Henson said in the letter. “However, as yet we haven’t met. Had you accepted my invitation to meet face-to-face, you would already know the answers to most of the issues raised in your recent communication.”
The diversity director suggested that activists try attending meetings of The Working Group, a body created by MU’s administration in order to transparently reform the school following mass protests last fall. Despite its intention of changing MU with student input, few people seem to have attended Working Group meetings.
At the least, Concerned Student 1950 can’t accuse Henson of flaunting his white privilege, as Henson himself is a black man.
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