UM System president talks progress, asks for patience in address to curators

Interim UM System President Mike Middleton: “A lot of people in groups blaming other people in groups for what our beloved university is facing. I can tell you it’s downright exhausting.”
Interim President Mike Middleton gives a speech during the curators meeting on Feb 5 in the Reynolds Alumni Center.

Interim President Michael Middleton didn’t sugarcoat the outlook for the UM System on Friday morning during his second report to the Board of Curators.

“I’ve walked the halls of the state capitol numerous times already in the first month of this legislative session, and I can tell you it’s not pretty down there,” Middleton said.

Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly have been vocal in their frustrations with the UM System, from threatening budget cuts to additional oversight. Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard has also said the Senate won’t confirm any more curators until a new governor is sworn in, which would be in January 2017. The board currently has three vacant seats after the resignation of curators David Steward and Yvonne Sparks.

“We’re not in a hurry to do anything for the University of Missouri,” Richard told the Associated Press.

Middleton said he feels that he’s softening the legislators’ concerns. A task force has been established to look at teaching waivers, and recommendations are due in April. He said the MU Athletics Department is planning to implement several initiatives to “better equip our student athletes to understand how to confront issues in a manner to evoke positive change to help the university move forward.”

Middleton has been in the interim position for almost three months. During that time, he said he’s spent time doing a lot of listening.

“What have I gathered, in fact most of what I have heard is blame,” he said. “A lot of people in groups blaming other people in groups for what our beloved university is facing. I can tell you it’s downright exhausting. It can literally sap your strength. But this institution and my deep love for it makes it all worthwhile.”

Middleton admitted that bettering relations in Jefferson City is going to take time, though.

“Patience is a virtue in situations like this,” Middleton said. “Just as these problems didn’t evolve overnight, your solutions will not come quickly.”

The curators announced a series of diversity initiatives Nov. 9, 2015, and Middleton said progress has been made. The search for a UM System Chief Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Officer has concluded, and public forums are scheduled next week with the three candidates.

The four campuses in the system also have individual diversity officers. Provost Garnett Stokes appointed Chuck Henson the interim vice chancellor for diversity, inclusion and equity. Henson reports directly to interim Chancellor Hank Foley.

“My door is open all the time to (Henson) and believe me he uses it,” Foley said in his update to the curators on MU’s strategic plan.

Middleton also said UM System staff are currently looking for a firm to conduct an audit of all diversity, inclusion and equity activities on all four campus and at the system. On Feb. 3, the UM System announced $921,000 in one-time funding for inclusion efforts on the individual campuses.

Middleton’s second address echoed the tone of his first report to the curators as he urged the community to look ahead to the future.

“We must stop trying to fix blame and focus on fixing problems,” he said. “It’s time to stop looking in the rearview mirror and start looking at the road ahead of us. It’s time to move forward.”

Middleton had a message to those who wonder who’s in charge of the university, a question he’s fielded in Jefferson City and heard around campus.

“I’ve heard references to inmates running the asylum and animals running the zoo,” he said. “We are neither an asylum or a zoo. We are a university … Our students are neither inmates or animals. They are young adults we are grooming to led us through the 21st century … This is our university and we are running it.”

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