The main takeaway from yesterday’s twin resignations at the University of Missouri is that college football teams have power, and lots of it.
Think about it. Former university president Timothy Wolfe had been confronted by students before – notably the ones who surrounded his car during homecoming – and ignored their demands, but only when faced with the loss of football revenue through forfeit penalties, ticket sales, concessions, and television coverage did he finally go.
I don’t think Wolfe ever got it.
As a former graduate student, I can understand the ire of someone who teaches classes at the university and who suddenly finds that said university will no longer pick up the tab for health insurance. As a teacher of students who face discrimination and prejudice because of their color, I can sympathize with students who endured obscene expressions of hate. But what I cannot understand is how Wolfe thought that none of this applied to him, that it wasn’t his fault, that if he ignored the students who demanded change, they and the problem would go away.
He brought about his own coup not because of what he did, but because of what he failed to do. His “let them eat cake” attitude meant nothing while Jonathan Butler had no bread.
And even when he resigned, it wasn’t about the students, not really. He made his decision after meeting with the donors and alums who had their collective hands on the money faucet. It was HP and Carly Fiorina all over again. He had to take one for the team that was about to walk out. He had to go.
And so he went. Graduate students and football players cheered, while Butler said he would resume eating.
And now college football teams across the nation are left with the realization that they have more power than they ever dreamed of having, and not the power that comes from winning championships or getting lucrative NFL contracts. This wasn’t the power of a few superstars throwing a tantrum or LeBron’s decision. The team, acting as one, brought down a university president and a chancellor!
And all leaders – not just those of universities, but of corporations and of governments – should take note of what highly motivated individuals who band together can accomplish.
Because this is just the beginning.