Interim UM System President Mike Middleton has student support

Fourteen student organizations cited Middleton's record of public service in a letter written by MU Policy Now.
Mike Middleton speaks at a press conference after being announced as the interim president of the UM System on Nov. 12, 2015, at University Hall.

Kayla Burrell, vice president of the MU Black Pre-Law Student Association, watched Mike Middleton speak during a press conference Nov. 12 in University Hall in which he was announced as UM System interim president. The UM System Board of Curators selected him three days after former President Tim Wolfe’s resignation.

“(Middleton) was very confident, like he felt like he would be able to make a change,” Burrell said. “Not cocky, but just someone you would trust with your, well I guess, with your UM System.”

Middleton isn’t just the Board of Curators’ choice. Fourteen student organizations, including MUBPLSA, endorsed a letter written by MU Policy Now to the curators supporting Middleton for interim president. Other student organizations that supported Middleton include the Missouri Students Association, Legion of Black Collegians and Graduate Professional Council.

MU Policy Now is a student organization that has existed for just over a week. Member Kenneth Bryant Jr. said the organization was founded by a group of students who wanted to see measurable progress in the wake of campus unrest.

“(We) wanted to make sure disparities on campus and at the system level would be focused on by policy so that changes can happen by way of institutional reformation rather than just discussion about racial incidents,” Bryant said.

Bryant called Middleton the “unquestioned choice” for students due to his past leadership in academia and the professional world, along with his commitment to diversity in all of his roles.

Middleton was an MU student during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and has worked as a civil rights lawyer in Washington, D.C., with the departments of Justice and Education. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1968 and became the School of Law’s third black graduate in 1971. After 14 years of practicing law, Middleton returned to MU as a tenured law professor before becoming deputy chancellor in 1998.

Now, just months after his retirement Aug. 31, Middleton is back on campus.

“Not only does he know the experiences that black students are facing now, I still think there is a lot of discrimination he would understand better than his white counterpart,” Burrell said. “He is able to better hear us out and hear where we’re coming from.”

In the Nov. 12 press conference, where he was named interim president, Middleton said he has felt marginalized on the MU campus in each of his roles as a student, an administrator and professor.

“(We have to) understand the ugly, ugly history that permeates everything we do in our institutions in this country,” Middleton said at the press conference. “Once we get the truth on the table, I think we’re poised to reconcile our differences and move forward.”

As interim president, Middleton will only serve in the role until a new president is selected. Burrell said she thinks that’s enough time to get the university back on track.

“Even though he’s only here for a year, this is a stepping stone,” she said. “The university has reached out to someone who can really make a change and try to fix what’s been broken in the UM System.”

GPC President Hallie Thompson said big policy changes take some time, but a strong interim period before the next president is chosen will help the university make progress. She said Middleton’s experience in law and familiarity with “political processes” made him a good candidate.

“The demands from graduate students, Concerned Student 1950 are still out there,” Thompson said. “We want the interim to be strong and make some of these changes.”

She said GPC endorsed Middleton for the reasons laid out in MU Policy Now’s letter.

“It represents all our viewpoints,” Thompson said.

Bryant said he wasn’t surprised when the Board of Curators announced that Middleton would be serving as interim president. The curators made no mention of MU Policy Now’s letter in their announcement.

“(Middleton)’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,” Board of Curators chairman Donald Cupps said in a news release.

Burrell said she didn’t recognize Middleton’s name when she first heard about the letter of support. After doing some research, she said she was impressed by his background and felt like he could understand marginalized students on campus better than anyone else.

“All the students just want to feel like they’re a part of a system that wants them to be there,” she said. “The system is broken, and he’ll be able to fix it.”

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