Ex-Mizzou President Tim Wolfe wrote an email to friends about his departure that recently leaked online. In it, he tried to argue that he is not an incompetent leader. But after reading his email, I actually concluded the opposite.
Wolfe resigned as president in November after students accused him of being an ineffectual leader who mishandled racism on campus.
On Wednesday, The Columbia Daily Tribune posted the email he sent to an undisclosed list of “a select few friends.”
His allegations of administrative malfeasance reads like blame-shifting and a possible vendetta against ex-colleagues.
In his email, he launched an attack on a former colleague he hired, the governing board of the university, members of the football team, and their coach who announced his resignation after a cancer diagnosis.
Wolfe contends he was surrounded by agenda-driven individuals who orchestrated the events on campus to deflect criticism from their own failed administrative positions.
He hits out most pointedly at former university chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, who also resigned from his position in November. Wolfe says Loftin’s job was on the line shortly before the protests on campus but Loftin used the Concerned Student 1950 student-led protest group to shift focus onto Wolfe.
Wolfe also attacks Mizzou’s board of curators, the governing body at the school. He accuses the board of being corrupt, saying “a few of the members of the board of curators consistently called subordinate staff and faculty members to dig up dirt and use their Curator role to further personal agendas.”
Later, when he writes he made a mistake in hiring Loftin, his “I never should have hired him” argument comes off as petulant and vindictive.
His accusations that administrators orchestrated events on campus belittles the cause that thousands of Missouri students fought for and achieved last fall.
Wolfe’s comments would almost certainly infuriate the students who had hate speech hurled at them, who were bumped by a convertible transporting Wolfe while they were trying to peacefully protest, or Jonathan Butler, an African-American graduate student who launched a hunger strike until Wolfe resigned.
Wolfe’s admonishment of the Missouri football program is particularly vexing. He takes aim at the group of black football players at Missouri who pledged not to participate in football activities until Wolfe was removed from office.
He says the team’s actions will cost the school millions in lost tuition and that “the end result could be a financial catastrophe for our university.”
Wolfe squarely places the specter of a financial catastrophe on the shoulders of a team of 18- to 22-year-olds while neglecting to mention the administrators who are paid six figures to avoid such an incident.
In his email, Wolfe also lectures football coach Gary Pinkel on missing out on an important opportunity to teach his players a valuable life lesson.
He leaves it to the reader to figure out just what lesson that is. Perhaps that student-athletes who receive no financial compensation in return for bringing in millions of dollars for the school actually have a tremendous amount of bargaining capital. Or that nonviolent protest has value in a civil society.
We’ll have to wait for a response by Wolfe for an answer to that question.
He comes across as bitter when he complains his resignation package — which came after intense pressure to step down — isn’t commensurate with that of some of his colleagues.
He specifically complains about being underpaid compared to Pinkel, who he says will receive $350,000 a year for three years after his resignation. But Wolfe is hardly in the same boat as the coach, especially since Pinkel resigned because he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and wants to spend his remaining years with family and friends.
Wolfe’s argument comes across as clumsy and distasteful.
What’s most telling to me is that Wolfe never explains his own part in the controversy that took over Mizzou.
Racial tensions on the Columbia, Missouri, campus started when Payton Head, president of the Missouri Students Association, was abused with racial epithets while walking on campus in the beginning of September.
Tensions accelerated when another group of students was targeted with hate speech in October. Less than a week later, students staged a protest during Missouri’s homecoming parade. Members of a protest group called Concerned Student 1950 interrupted the parade and stood in front of a red convertible driving Wolfe. The stopped car moved back and forth, revving its engine and eventually bumped into a student.
The events on Missouri’s campus spurred protests at colleges around the nation, allowing students to speak up for the institutional racism they say is apparent on their own campuses.
Wolfe’s position comes across as sceptical that there was ever truly an issue that needed correcting, or at least addressing, under his tenure as president. This is probably his biggest misstep.
Leadership is not just about the ability to manage correctly but the ability to inspire those around you. As much as it is about the “bottom line,” it’s about public perception and your instincts to address problems before they become public relations nightmares.
For those who think it’s unfair for Wolfe’s job to hinge, in part, on his public perception, tell that to CEOs who regularly lose their jobs for just that.
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