Black administrator named University of Missouri System's interi - KCTV5

Black administrator named University of Missouri System's interim president

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The University of Missouri Board of Curators named Mike Middleton as the a new interim president for the university system. The University of Missouri Board of Curators named Mike Middleton as the a new interim president for the university system.
COLUMBIA, MO (KCTV) -

The University of Missouri Board of Curators has appointed a recently retired black senior administrator from its flagship campus as the new interim president for the university system.

At the time of his appointment Thursday, Mike Middleton, 68, was serving in a part-time capacity at MU, directing efforts to improve inclusion, diversity and equity within campus activities. The curators reportedly settled on Middleton during closed session on Wednesday that lasted several hours. He will serve in the role until a permanent replacement is found.

"I am honored to accept the appointment as interim president of the UM System, and lead our state’s premiere university during this extraordinary time," Middleton said. "The time has come for us to acknowledge and address our daunting challenges, and return to our relentless adherence to the University of Missouri’s mission to discover, disseminate, preserve and apply knowledge."

Beginning his tenure at MU as a law professor in 1985, Middleton retired as deputy chancellor on Aug. 31 after serving in the role for 17 years and became a deputy chancellor emeritus.

"Mike Middleton is the best person to lead the system during this critical period of transition, with 30 years of leadership experience on the MU campus and past service as a civil rights attorney," said Donald Cupps, chair of the University of Missouri Board of Curators. "Mike’s outstanding managerial skills and knowledge of the UM System and its four campuses, make him the leader we need to advance our university system forward."

On Monday, the university system's president, Tim Wolfe, and the Columbia campus' chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, resigned under pressure following weeks of unrest over the administration's response to racial incidents. The issue boiled over Saturday when black Mizzou football players said they would not play or practice until Wolfe was gone and graduate student Jonathan Butler ended his hunger strike.

Football coach Gary Pinkel's support of his players helped seal Wolfe's fate. Loftin had run afoul of numerous deans.

The board accelerated the transition of authority from Loftin on Thursday to interim chancellor Hank Foley, giving Foley the responsibilities of the MU Office of Chancellor effective immediately.

"Our priorities have been to keep our campus community informed and safe, and to make sure students, faculty and staff are aware of the many resources available to them in terms of counseling, mental health services and other support," Foley said. "I am looking forward to working with Interim President Middleton and the other system chancellors to continue to forward progress at the University of Missouri."

Middleton said he is looking forward to working closely with the leadership on the system's four campuses, and Missouri’s state leaders, to move the university forward.

"We all know that the University has faced its share of troubling incidents and we recognize that we must move forward as a community. We must embrace these issues as they come, and they will come to define us in the future. This is a learning experience for us all. We must tighten our focus, improve our culture and climate across all of our campuses and share in the responsibility to see that our University advance in healthy ways built upon respect," Middleton said.

Middleton also wants students to understand that their demands and concerns will be heard.

"It is clear to me that a first step is to devote our attention to addressing those demands. It is imperative that we hear all of our students and do everything we can to make them comfortable and safe in our community," Middleton said. 

He said he understands protest and trying to affect change as he brought up his own past at the school.

"As a founder of the leader of Black collegians when I was a student here, I delivered a list of demands to the chancellor in 1969. I was an administrator at Mizzou in 2005 when the Legion of Black Collegians presented another list of demands to the administration," Middleton said.

He also addressed what could be called the "elephant in the room" - that he is only in his new position because he's Black.

"Color in this country is an issue that is considered, that affects many, many decisions that are made positively and negatively. We need to understand that, accept that and get beyond that eventually," he said.

Middleton added that he has been meeting with the group, Concerned Student 1950, for several weeks, even before they existed. He plans to continue to meet with them until they devise a solution. 

Brandon Ellington spoke at press conference Thursday put on by Civil Rights and church leaders who gathered in Kansas City to urge others to take students' reports of threats and concerns about safety seriously. During the presser, Ellington said he believed Middleton will help the movement, but questions where he or another qualified person was before.

"I think he brings a lot of wisdom to the job, but there again lies a problem. Every time we have a racial issue and a lack of diversity you quickly see a black face put up there," Ellington said. 

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster applauded the choice of Middleton as interim president.

"I have known Mike for 25 years, from his days teaching me criminal procedure in law school through his service as deputy chancellor emeritus of the Columbia campus.  His decades of leadership and familiarity with the University and its student body make him an outstanding choice to guide the institution through this period," Koster said.

A 1968 graduate of MU, Middleton was the third African-American graduate student to graduate from the MU Law School.

He pursued a career in civil rights law in Washington, D.C., working as a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He later worked as director of the Office of Systemic Programs at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and then as principal deputy assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

He was director of the St. Louis district office of EEOC before returning to MU in 1985.

Ellington will meet with Middleton next week to talk about the best way MU can move forward.

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