COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — One of the University of Missouri’s first black law school graduates was appointed Thursday to lead the four-campus system through a tumultuous period of racial unrest, drawing praise from students who said he’s well-equipped to confront the problems they felt his predecessor largely ignored.
Michael Middleton, 68, has spent 30 years at the university — as an undergraduate, law student, faculty member and finally, administrator. At a news conference announcing his appointment as the university system’s interim president, he vowed to take on the racial problems that inspired the protests that helped force Monday’s abrupt resignation of President Tim Wolfe and another top administrator.
“I have seen the system grow and excel over the years and I look with great optimism in the future,” said Middleton.
He said the university “has faced its share of troubling incidents and we recognize that we must move forward as a community. We must embrace these issues as they come, and they will come to define us in the future.”
MU Policy Now, a student group made up of graduate and professional students, had been pushing for the president’s role to go to Middleton, who retired as deputy chancellor of the Columbia campus in August and had been made a deputy chancellor emeritus. He had been working part-time to assist Loftin design a plan to increase inclusion and diversity on campus.
“Given the recent turmoil, Deputy Chancellor Emeritus Middleton is a strong transitional figure,” the group wrote in a letter of endorsement posted on its Facebook page and sent to curators. Several student organizations signed the recommendation letter, including the Legion of Black Collegians.
Second-year law student Christopher Hamm, president of the school’s Black Law Students Association, applauded the appointment.
“There is nobody better suited to lead this university than Mike Middleton,” said Hamm, 22, of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Ben Trachtenberg, an associate law professor who chairs the Columbia campus’ Faculty Council on University Policy, also praised it, calling Middleton “a very smart guy who knows a ton about the university.”
“I have nothing but good things to say about Mike,” Trachtenberg told The Associated Press.
Middleton takes over at a turbulent time for the university. Black student groups had been calling for change over the administration’s handling of racial issues and were given a boost last weekend when 30 black football players vowed not to take part in team activities until Wolfe was gone.
Wolfe and the chancellor of the Columbia campus, R. Bowen Loftin, abruptly resigned on Monday. On Thursday, the board said Loftin’s resignation timeline had been accelerated and that his interim replacement, Hank Foley, had already assumed that role. Loftin will take a different position at the university.
Meanwhile Thursday, authorities announced that a third Missouri man had been charged for allegedly posting anonymous online threats to attack college campuses.