Today, in Columbia, Missouri, Missou President Tim Wolfe resigned over racial tensions about inequality. Although inequality exists at all levels and all institutions of our society, addressing solutions over the last 100 years has brought us mixed results. Homelessness, poverty, gender salaries and educational outcome inequalities have been addressed, and all have had mixed outcomes. And to what extent can educators feel that our work really impacts our society? Can we assume that changes in education really change society? This is one of the toughest conversations we have in education, as the answer to these questions are not easy to agree upon. But the Missou President’s resignation is a very hopeful signal of real change.
“It is my belief that we stopped listening to each other,” said President Tim Wolfe.
Although this is just one President resigning, the impact of the complaints that forced his resignation are a very important set of signals about potential change for inequality tensions that deserve examination. For example, Jonathan Butler was on a week-long hunger strike, the football team had committed to forfeiting 1 million dollars for not playing the next game, and the undergraduate body as well as the faculty had voiced no-confidence in their President. These signals reveal multiple approaches to protesting educational inequality.
In responding to these signals, President Wolfe called on the campus to heal over his resignation and that was a generous gift to the process but it feels like it falls short in really addressing decades-old refusals by the university to deal with many other previously identified examples of educational inequality. Although it falls short, it may be a moment of real change.
I think we are seeing a set of protests in one university that may spread to other institutions as signals of the need for real change. Students may use the leverage they have—participation in university activities—as a way to make these inequalities known and acted upon. Faculty may use the leverage they have—voting no-confidence—as a way to signal their presidents that they want real change. Perhaps the sports team was the tipping point in this case, but this university could be on a course correction, and the rest of our society on its way to real change, the kind of change that really addresses these educational inequalities by acknowledging them and acting upon them. We must acknowledge and we must act at the educational level to support real change and thereby strengthen the effect education has to improve our society.