- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - University of Missouri students pointedly pressed the system’s governing board Friday for faster diversity reforms at the Columbia campus, which is still grappling with racial unrest three months since protests led to departures of two top administrators.

The four students - three black and one white - at times questioned the Board of Curators’ resolve in addressing race issues, compounding pressures on the board that’s also under fire from frustrated state lawmakers as the board handles business down three members and without any of color.

“At the end of the day you answer to us, because our tuition pays for this,” Kelcea Barnes, a black undergraduate student who identifies herself as queer, told the curators during the last day of their two-day meeting, which was interrupted twice Thursday by protesters. “We don’t get the big bucks to change this. You do.”

“You’re now responsible,” she added. “You’re at the age of accountability.”

Timothy Love, a black graduate student, pushed for a requirement that undergraduates take at least one comprehensive class about race and gender and that it deals with “the science of prejudice.” And he criticized the absence of diversity on the board that runs the four-campus system, given last week’s resignations of the only two black curators.

“If there are no policies in place after all these months, we have a right to be angry,” Love said. “It also doesn’t help that all of you are white. That sends a signal that there’s a gulf between us.”

The curators offered no promises but indicated they understood the impatience.

“At every institution comes a time when it has to change,” said curator David Steele, a Rolla attorney. “The process is great, but all that really matters is what you get at the end.”

The November protests resonated across the nation and were spurred by what activists said was administrators’ indifference to racial issues, leading to the resignations of the system president and the Columbia campus’ chancellor.

The fallout also has come from the state’s Republican-led Legislature, where Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard this week described the system’s relationship with lawmakers as “terrible.” GOP leaders have said they have no interest in filling the curator vacancies before next year, when Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is out of office.

“We’re not in a hurry to do anything for the University of Missouri,” Richard said. “It’s apparent to me that no one is in charge. So we’ll be in charge.”

Nixon pledged Thursday to circumvent lawmakers, if needed, to fill the vacancies by making interim appointments when legislators are out of session.

Curator Pamela Henrickson, from Jefferson City, insisted Friday that the board has been “working hard” to mend relations with lawmakers, telling The Associated Press that “we’re at the (Statehouse) every day.”

“I think our presence in the Capitol is the most important thing, just convincing them that we have things in hand,” she said. “Certainly we can improve (relations with lawmakers), and we’re working very hard to do that.”

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