AP News Guide: A look at the University of Missouri's issues

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Posted: Nov 13, 2015 8:13 PM
AP News Guide: A look at the University of Missouri's issues

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Efforts are underway at the University of Missouri to address the racial tensions that led to demonstrations by students, a strike by members of the school's football team and the resignation of two top administrators. Here's a look at the situation:

THE LATEST

Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel abruptly announced he would resign at the end of the season for health reasons, days after he kept his team united when players went on strike because of racial tensions on campus. The 63-year-old coach was diagnosed with lymphoma in May and dismissed the idea that this week's events led to his decision.

Also Friday, Gov. Jay Nixon named Yvonne Sparks to fill a vacant seat on the University of Missouri Board of Curators. If her appointment is approved by lawmakers, Sparks will be the second black member of the nine-person governing board.

At least 100 people marched from the university's Black Culture Center through areas of Greek housing and to the heart of the Columbia campus in response to threats of violence against black students. Interim Chancellor Hank Foley joined students in chanting while arm-in-arm with Missouri Students Association President Payton Head.

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THE BACKGROUND

A day after about 30 black players declared a boycott of football-related activities in support of a hunger-striking Missouri graduate student, Pinkel took to social media to announce that his team would act as one, even though it would have cost the school $1 million to cancel the game against BYU at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. The boycott ended less than 48 hours after it started when the target of the protest, system president Tim Wolfe, resigned.

The turnover in administration began after campus groups, including Concerned Student 1950, started protesting the treatment of minorities on the Columbia campus and school leaders' perceived lack of response to their complaints.

Missouri's student government president, who is black, said he was called a racial slur by someone in a passing pickup truck. Days before the Oct. 10 homecoming parade, members of the Legions of Black Collegians said racial slurs were directed at them by an unidentified person. And a swastika drawn in feces was found recently in a dormitory bathroom.

One student went on a hunger strike Nov. 2 and said he wouldn't eat until Tim Wolfe was replaced as president of the university system. The football players issued a statement Saturday night supporting the protesters and saying they would not play the following weekend. Pinkel supported them on Sunday.

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KEY PLAYERS

Michael Middleton, a retired senior administrator, was named the university system's interim president, replacing Wolfe. Middleton retired as deputy chancellor of the Columbia campus in August. Since his retirement, he worked part-time with the campus' former chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, on a plan to increase inclusion and diversity at the school. Middleton said Thursday that he understood the widespread frustration with the university but was optimistic about the future.

Middleton, 68, has spent 30 years at the university — as an undergraduate, law student, faculty member and, now, administrator. Students and faculty praised the appointment Thursday.

Hank Foley has begun serving as interim chancellor of the Columbia campus, replacing Loftin. The university initially said Loftin would stay as chancellor until the end of the year. Loftin will take a different position at the university.

Hunter M. Park, a 19-year-old sophomore studying computer science at a sister campus in Rolla, is in custody on a charge of making a terroristic threat, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Authorities say Park, of Lake St. Louis, posted threats directed at the Columbia campus on the anonymous messaging app Yik Yak and other social media. He was the first of the three male students charged with threatening violence.

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LOOKING AHEAD

The Tigers play Brigham Young University in Kansas City on Saturday, one week after they threatened to stay on the sidelines. That threat vanished Monday when Wolfe resigned. Pinkel said Wednesday that he asked his coaching staff to stay in close touch with the players through texts and phone calls. The game gained added significance after Pinkel announced on Friday he was resigning at the end of the season.

Missouri brings a four-game losing streak into Saturday's game at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium against the Cougars (7-2). Pinkel said it is impossible to predict how his team will respond to a most unusual week.

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This story has updated to correct the name of the student group to Concerned Student 1950, not Concerned Students 1950.