Middleton gives first report as interim president in second day of curators meeting

Interim UM System President Mike Middleton: “This is a time of significant challenges to be sure, but also a time of significant opportunity.”
Mike Middleton speaks at a press conference after being announced as the interim president of the UM System Nov. 12, 2015.

Interim UM System President Mike Middleton stressed the need for support in his address to the UM System Board of Curators in the second day of the curators’ meeting on Friday, Dec. 11. He called the fall semester, which included the resignations of UM System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, a “perfect storm.”

“Now more than ever, we need everyone’s support to move this university forward,” he said. “Now is the time to thrive at this university.”

The curators also hosted a panel on campus safety, including sex and gender-based discrimination and racial discrimination, with administrators representing all four UM System campuses.

The curators voted unanimously to elect curator Pamela Henrickson, a lawyer in Jefferson City, the board’s chairwoman for 2016. Curator Maurice Graham was unanimously elected vice chairman.

Henrickson said her theme for the year will be “a culture of respect,” to go along with with the systemwide discussions of diversity and inclusion.

“We must learn to teach our students to disagree without being disagreeable, and to understand that they can tell someone that they admire and respect that their idea just isn’t that great,” she said.

Interim UM System President Report

Middleton told the board “now is the time to thrive at this university” in his first report to the curators as interim UM System president.

“I am committed to restoring the luster of this university that we all love, and I’m confident that we will come out of this storm in a much better place than where we began,” he said.

He said the UM System has an opportunity to become a national leader in addressing racism and promoting diversity and inclusion.

“This is a time of significant challenges to be sure, but also a time of significant opportunity,” he said. “We’re addressing our challenges with a determination to move us forward so our great university can get back to achieving its mission.”

He acknowledged the various factors that contributed to a semester of turmoil on campus, including graduate student health insurance, Planned Parenthood, and administrative and faculty concern about leadership. He said that while these factors provide context, they do not “diminish the importance of … the concerns expressed by our students of color and other marginalized students.”

“As we move forward, we must also remind ourselves daily that the university has not changed given the recent events,” Middleton said. “We have a very rich 176-year-plus history of academic excellence and tradition … let’s remember that the university remains an incredible asset to the state of Missouri and a beacon of hope for all Missourians.”

He said the incidents of racism at MU represent a “longstanding national and societal flaw” and he intends to work with student leaders on all campuses to ensure that their voices are heard.

“It’s time to confront these issues and develop systems and mechanisms that will enable us to move beyond these issues in the future,” he said.

Middleton also discussed the need for the UM System to foster collaboration between campuses. Lawmakers have discussed potentially dissolving the system, and Middleton said the cost to provide separate services to each campuses would at least double.

Campus Safety

MU’s Title IX Coordinator Ellen Eardley and interim Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Chuck Henson spoke at the meeting in a panel focused on safety, Title IX, diversity and inclusion.

The focus of Eardley’s job shifted in early December. She now leads the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX, an office created after a semester of campus demonstrations and conflicts within the UM System.

Eardley said the office will centralize responses to all reports of discrimination on campus.

“I think that’s essential for our campus community’s sense of wellbeing,” she said.

Henson focused on the importance of dialogue, community and personal development in creating an inclusive campus climate.

“To have a good relationship, we need to be able to talk to each other without fearing the subject matter … without labeling, without accusing,” he said. “We need to have a basis to start from, which I believe are the facts.”

Henson said an 18-month lecture series on the African-American experience in Missouri will begin at MU in January. The university will also host a series of lectures on the First Amendment, academic freedom, freedom of expression and social responsibility.

He emphasized the importance of spending time with students on campus and “letting them know the relationship is real.”

Henson also announced a new program for students sponsored by black studies department chairwoman Stephanie Shonekan and women’s and gender studies department chairwoman Joan Hermsen.

“This will provide incoming freshmen with an opportunity to see why diversity is not only important, but it’s interesting and cool,” Henson said.

Other Notes

The curators unanimously approved the consent agenda, which included the naming of a new residence hall at MU. Building One, on the site of former Jones Hall, will be named George C. Brooks Hall after one of MU’s first black administrators. It will be the third building on campus named after a black man.

The curators also passed a resolution to honor Tracy Mulderig, the system’s student representative to the board. The next student representative will be an MU student.

Mulderig encouraged students to learn how to disagree respectfully with others.

“The past two years have been an incredible opportunity to serve the great state of Missouri and especially my fellow students,” she said. “We will heal, and we will be stronger and better as a result of recent events.”

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