Mike Middleton named interim UM System President

Middleton was one of the first black students to graduate from MU’s law school.

Mike Middleton speaks at a press conference after being announced as the interim president of the UM System Nov. 12, 2015.

Mike Middleton was named the interim president of the UM System by the UM System Board of Curators in a press conference Thursday. He is MU’s deputy chancellor emeritus and a professor emeritus of law.

Middleton said he wants to confront the “uncomfortable societal issues” that have been brought to light recently on campus.

“This is a learning experience for all of us,” Middleton said in the press conference. “It is imperative that we hear all our students and do everything we can to make them comfortable and safe in our community.”

The curators met in an executive session Wednesday to discuss the replacement of former UM System President Tim Wolfe, who resigned from his position Monday, Nov. 9 amid growing pressure and racial tensions on campus. Later that day, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned from his position. The curators announced Senior Vice Chancellor Hank Foley as interim chancellor.

However, the curators chose to accelerate the transition of authority from Loftin to Foley, according to a Thursday news release. Foley has the responsibilities of MU’s chancellor effective immediately.

Middleton received his both his bachelor’s degree and law degree from MU in 1968 and 1971, respectively. He said he felt marginalized on MU’s campus every day as a student, faculty member and administrator.

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

He said he has been meeting with members of Concerned Student 1950 since before the group existed and will continue to meet with them in the future. He said he will do “everything he can” to meet their demands.

“We’re at an opportune moment to take some giant steps forward to move this issue far beyond where it's been moved in the past,” he said.

As the founder of MU’s Legion of Black Collegians, Middleton said he delivered a list of demands to the chancellor in 1969.

Middleton, who was one of the first black students to graduate from the MU School of Law, acknowledged in the press conference that his “color will be met with much criticism from parts of the community.”

“I suspect that my color was a factor in the judgment that I was the person at this time to take this position,” Middleton said. “Color in this country is an issue that is considered, that affects many decisions that are made, positively and negatively. We need to understand that, accept it and get beyond it.”

In 1997, Middleton was MU’s interim vice provost for minority affairs and faculty development. He became deputy chancellor in 1998 and served for 17 years.

Before Middleton joined the law faculty at MU in 1985, he worked as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In 1977, he was appointed assistant deputy director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Middleton also served as director of the Office of Systemic Programs for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision and principal deputy assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education. In addition, he was appointed associate general counsel of the EEOC’s trial division.

In closing the press conference, Middleton said it’s important to understand the history of segregation in America in order to move beyond that history.

"We can build the institution and country that we imagine rather than the institution or country that is,” he said.

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