Middleton asks UM System to ‘become comfortable with the uncomfortable’

Interim UM System President Mike Middleton: “Often when we are uncomfortable, it is because we are in the process of learning. This is an important part of advancing our individual and collective growth.”

Interim President Mike Middleton gives a speech during the UM System Board of Curators meeting on Feb. 5 in the Reynolds Alumni Center. Middleton spoke about embracing uncomfortable topics to move forward as a university on April 15 at the Board of Curators meeting in Rolla, Missouri. Maneater Photo Staff

Improving the UM System will only come through engaging in difficult conversations, interim President Mike Middleton said in a UM System Board of Curators meeting Friday morning.

Middleton encouraged students, faculty, staff and administrators to “build the institution we can imagine” and consider what an inclusive learning and working environment looks like.

“While this stemmed from the current dialogue on our campuses regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, the conversation is really much bigger than that,” he said. “These ongoing conversations have been, and will continue to be, difficult. Having them takes confidence, courage and leadership from everyone involved.”

Middleton said he hopes the future of the UM System for future generations will be taken into consideration.

“Each of us who believe in a bright future for this great university must ask ourselves if we’re willing to become comfortable with the uncomfortable,” he said. “Often when we are uncomfortable, it is because we are in the process of learning. This is an important part of advancing our individual and collective growth.”

In his first report to the board in December, Middleton said he wanted the UM System to become a national model for promoting diversity and addressing issues of racism. He said Friday he feels that many other campuses have looked to the UM System to figure out how to address students who felt marginalized and create a better learning environment.

“It was clear that others are learning from the examples we are setting,” he said. “We are clearly becoming seen as a national leader in addressing these issues, which is something I take great pride in, but as always, there is a great deal more work to be done.”

A systemwide task force and third-party audit have provided a “thorough and unflinching examination” of diversity on all four UM System campuses, Middleton said. He said the audit firm will be announced soon.

Middleton also discussed the efforts of system leadership to rebuild trust among state legislators, and said he was encouraged by the Missouri Senate’s budgeted increase to UM System funding last week.

“I’m hopeful that this reinforces that our messages are being heard, and that the state understands our value that we bring to it, and that we are truly moving forward as an institution to be better than ever,” Middleton said.

Middleton closed with an encouragement to students, faculty and staff to examine their love for the UM System and use it productively.

“Each of us must take a deep look down inside ourselves to determine how we can affirm our love for this institution and use it to strengthen our desire to press forward for a bright future, despite any obstacles or challenges that might cross our paths,” he said. “Together, we must first imagine the university that can be, and then create it together.”

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