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On 2 Campuses Where Heads Rolled, Opposition to Protests Reverberates

[Updated (11/17/2015, 3:11 p.m.) with more detail about the opposition at Claremont McKenna.]

Amid national protests of racism on campuses in the past week, three prominent academic leaders have resigned: the University of Missouri system’s president, Timothy M. Wolfe; the Missouri flagship’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin; and Claremont McKenna College’s dean of students, Mary Spellman.

On both campuses, protesters are now beginning to feel a backlash.

At Missouri a poll of state residents conducted on Friday and Saturday found that more than half of the respondents disagreed with what the campus’s leading protest group, Concerned Student 1950, had said about racism, and more than 60 percent opposed its actions, the Columbia Daily Tribune reports. Even the football coach, Gary Pinkel, who voiced support for his players’ boycott in support of the protest, fared poorly in the poll, which was conducted by Missouri Scout, a politics blog. Thirty-one percent of respondents disapproved of his support, and nearly half said they had a worse opinion of the team after the protests.

In a written statement on Monday, the interim system president, Mike Middleton, said the system needed to “rebuild trust — trust among all our students, the parents of our students, our faculty and staff, our alumni, and our state leaders.”

At Claremont McKenna the backlash has come from other students. The Los Angeles Times reports an open letter with almost 300 signatures criticized protesters’ use of hunger strikes to drive Ms. Spellman to resign as “extremely inappropriate.” The letter went on: “Mary Spellman is a person, a human being, and you put her in a situation where the dean had to decide to sacrifice her whole career or let you starve. No matter what you think of her, as an administrator of this campus she would do anything to ensure your health and well-being. Your claims of democratic principles through assembly are invalidated by the savagery of your actions.”

The letter, written on behalf of the students by Nathanial Tsai, a junior, also criticizes protesters’ use of profanity, as well as the college’s vice president for student affairs for standing “idle” as protesters took aim at Ms. Spellman.

The letter wasn’t the first gesture of dissent. Late last week the leadership of The Claremont Independent, a right-leaning student publication, issued a full-throated denunciation of the protests. And this week two students began soliciting letters in support of the ousted dean. In a statement on their website the students said they were gathering the letters to assist in Ms. Spellman’s search for a new job.

Complaints against the dean were broad, but were touched off by an email in which she told a student that the college sought to support students “who don’t fit our CMC mold.”

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