- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - A graduate student is refusing to eat in an effort to oust University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe for failing to respond to a range of student concerns, such as the use of racial slurs on campus.

Graduate student and campus activist Jonathan Butler began the hunger strike Monday, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported. Butler wrote in a letter to the Board of Curators that he won’t eat “until either Tim Wolfe is removed from office or my internal organs fail and my life is lost.”

Wolfe in a statement said it’s “very concerning to me when any of our students’ wellbeing is in jeopardy,” and said he’s especially concerned about Butler’s health.

Other university students pledged to camp at Traditions Plaza, in the heart of the Columbia campus across from Jesse Hall, in support of Butler and until Wolfe is removed from his position.

“As long as Tim Wolfe is UM System president, we will be here,” said DeShaunya Ware, one of the students who camped out Monday night.

The Columbia Missourian reported Butler in his letter to curators cited the abrupt removal of graduate student health care subsidies, the end to university contracts with a Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic, anti-Semitic graffiti and the use of racial slurs on campus.

Concerned Student 1950, the group camping out in protest, similarly cited frustrations with how Wolfe has handled race issues, the Daily Tribune reported. That group in a separate protest last month blocked a car Wolfe was riding in during the university Homecoming parade and were removed by police.

Wolfe said in a statement that he has spoken with both Butler and Concerned Student 1950 and will continue to have conversations with others interested in affecting change.

“The only way we can begin to address the systemic and pervasive issue of racism in society and the effects it has on our campuses is to engage in dialogue, to build deeper relationships and have frank conversations,” Wolfe said.

Also this week, members of the Department of English sent a letter to Wolfe expressing frustration with another university leader: Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.

The newspaper reported 26 members voted that they have no confidence in Loftin’s leadership. No one voted that they have confidence in him, and two abstained.

In a letter to Wolfe and the Board of Curators, associate professor Samuel Cohen cited concerns with the treatment of graduate students, disrespect of shared governance and “failure to defend the University’s educational mission against outside political pressure.”

University spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said Loftin had not received a copy of the letter and was unaware of department criticism. She says Loftin is working to listen to concerns and continues to “work toward solutions for some of the issues we are currently challenged with.”

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