By Kevin Murphy
(Reuters) - Pressure mounted on University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe to resign and the board of curators was set to meet Monday as the university's black football players refused to practice or play until Wolfe is ousted amid heightened racial tensions.
The football team suspended practice on Saturday and Sunday and black players have vowed not to return until Wolfe is fired or resigns, citing his poor handling of concerns over racism on campus.
In addition to the football team's action, one student has held a week-long hunger strike.
Protests on campus have been led by a group called ConcernedStudent1950, which says black students have endured racial slurs and believes white students benefit from favoritism in many aspects of campus life.
On Monday morning, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill agreed, as the Democrat told CNN racism is systemic at the school.
"The challenge is to make a decision about the leadership going forward," she said.
"I don’t believe the president is in the dark at this point about how bad things are,” McCaskill said of Wolfe. "I believe that the University is going to change the page today.”
USA Today reported that a faculty group was calling for classroom walkouts Monday and Tuesday in protest of the college's handling of the racial tensions.
A majority of the 35,000 students at the university in Columbia, about 125 miles (200 km) west of St. Louis, is white.
Racial tensions in Missouri flared last year when a white policeman in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson killed an unarmed black teenager and a grand jury brought no charges against him. The shooting kindled nationwide soul-searching about the treatment of blacks by law enforcement.
Wolfe indicated no intention to resign, but said in a statement on Sunday that solutions to the students' concerns were being discussed.
"It is clear to all of us that change is needed, and we appreciate the thoughtfulness and passion which have gone into the sharing of concerns," he said.
The university has been working on "a systemwide diversity and inclusion strategy" to be released in April 2016, Wolfe said.
The board of curators called a closed-door meeting at the university and via conference call for mid-morning on Monday, according to its website.
In Columbia last month, activists blocked Wolfe’s car at a homecoming parade and said he bumped one of the protesters with the vehicle.
In a statement on Friday, Wolfe apologized.
“My behavior seemed like I did not care,” Wolfe said. “That was not my intention. I was caught off-guard in that moment. Nonetheless, had I gotten out of the car to acknowledge the students and talk with them, perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The boycott of football activities was announced on Saturday night. The team's next game is scheduled for Saturday in Kansas City against Brigham Young University.
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing by Ben Klayman and Bernadette Baum)