A Mizzou administrator who was one of its first black law school graduates has been named interim president of the university system, its Board of Curators announced on Thursday.
Former University of Missouri-Columbia Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton, 68, vowed to address the “daunting challenges” facing the school that had led to unrest and the resignation under pressure of his predecessor.
“I am honored to accept the appointment as interim president of the UM System, and lead our state’s premiere university during this extraordinary time,” Middleton said in a news release announcing his appointment.
“The time has come for us to acknowledge and address our daunting challenges, and return to our relentless adherence to the University of Missouri’s mission to discover, disseminate, preserve and apply knowledge,” he continued.
At the time of his appointment, Middleton was serving in a part-time capacity to direct efforts to improve inclusion, diversity and equity within campus activities, the board said.
The board cited Middleton’s 30 years at Mizzou, where he studied as an undergraduate before attending its law school and then working as a faculty member and administrator.
“Mike’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,” the board’s Chairman Donald Cupps said in a statement.
Former President Tim Wolfe resigned on Monday amid growing tension and complaints over the way in which he handled acts of racism on campus.
“Use my resignation to heal and start talking again,” Wolfe had said at the time.
Thirty black members of the University’s football team had sworn not to take part in team activities until Wolfe was out, and Jonathan Butler, a 25-year-old University of Missouri graduate student, went on a hunger strike that he said he would not end until Wolfe was removed from his position.
Student group MU Policy Now applauded Middleton’s appointment, writing on the group’s Facebook page: “We have great faith in Interim President Middleton's ability to lead our system through this difficult transitional period.
“At this time, the focus of MU Policy Now is to integrate and collaborate with other motivated students, faculty, staff, and administrators across the UM System as we look forward to developing, analyzing, and implementing detailed and appropriately-resourced policy changes,” the post read.
The board also accelerated the transition of authority from MU Chancellor R. Bowen to Interim Chancellor Hank Foley, giving Foley the responsibilities of the MU Office of Chancellor effective immediately.
“Our priorities have been to keep our campus community informed and safe, and to make sure students, faculty and staff are aware of the many resources available to them in terms of counseling, mental health services and other support. I am looking forward to working with Interim President Middleton and the other system chancellors to continue to forward progress at the University of Missouri,” Foley said in a statement.
The appointments come days after a 19-year-old man allegedly posted online threats to shoot black people on the Columbia campus.
Hunter Park was charged with making a terroristic threat after he allegedly posted on the app Yik Yak threats including: “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow,” the Associated Press reported.
The same statement was made ahead of the shooting at an Oregon community college that killed nine people.
Making a terroristic threat is an offense that is punishable up to seven years in prison.