The University of Missouri’s interim system president has been with the University of Missouri for 30 years, including as a law professor and deputy chancellor. Before that, Mike Middleton was active in the civil rights movement while a student at the university in the 60s. He was a founder of the Legion of Black Collegians, and was one of the students who demanded more black faculty be hired and that threats and harassment toward black students be stopped.
Middleton, who is African-American, told reporters he suspects his race did play into his being asked to take on the role of interim system president.
“Color, in this country, is an issue that is considered – that effects many, many decisions that are made, positively and negatively. We need to understand that, accept it, and get beyond it eventually,” said Middleton, who said for him to have been asked whether his race figured into his selection is reflective of the institutional racism that so many are trying to move beyond.
Middleton told reporters during his time at MU he has felt marginalized because of his race, whether it was when he was a student, a faculty member, or an administrator.
“Every day. In all three capacities,” said Middleton.
He said he will work to satisfy all the demands of students that can be satisfied, and not just those made this year.
“The demands that were submitted in 1969, the demands that were submitted in 2005, and the demands that were most recently submitted to administration involve complex interactions among many in this university,” said Middleton. “I intend to lead this university towards satisfying each and every one of those demands that can be satisfied.”
Some students have told the media and others they don’t feel safe due to threats, some made on social media in recent days. Middleton seemed to echo the instructions given by the University of Missouri Police to students – to report hurtful or hateful speech or actions – in discussing how such threats would be dealt with.
“Those kinds of incidents will be investigated quickly, dealt with quickly, and the people responsible will be held accountable. MUPD is an amazing law enforcement agency. They are on the job. They will do what they can to apprehend offenders and bring them to justice, but MUPD can not be everywhere. They can not walk hand-in-hand with every student,” said Middleton. “This is a tense situation, so what I can say to them is be careful. Be careful, report anything you see, cooperate with MUPD, and hopefully at some point this kind of turmoil will dissipate.”
Middleton was appointed after Tim Wolfe resigned on Monday, which followed protests, a hunger strike, and the Tiger football team saying it would not play or practice until Wolfe stepped down. Middleton says everyone in the university community must be willing educate one another and be educated about what led to those actions.
“We need to talk about this. We need to come together, let our guard down, sit across the table person-to-person, and respectfully discuss these issues and move beyond them,” said Middleton.