New Interim UM System President has history of social change

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COLUMBIA - Former Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton will be the interim UM System president replacing Tim Wolfe who resigned Monday in the wake of protests over racial tensions on campus.

Middleton said, "We must confront uncomfortable societal issues that, once confronted, will make us stronger."

Hurtful, hateful actions to the community "will not be tolerated," he said.

“It is imperative that we hear all of our students and do everything we can to make them comfortable and safe in our community,” he said.

Middleton said it is an indication of racial situation in the country that he was asked during the press conference whether being African American played a role in his appointment. He said he suspects his color will be met with much criticism from the community.

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

Middleton said he has met and plans to meet again with Concerned Student 1950 to "address" the protesters demands and will do everything humanly and institutionally possible to meet them.

"I guarantee you the ones we don’t meet, we will explain why they couldn’t be met, hopefully to the satisfaction of the students," he said.

He said he understands the frustrations of students, and the recent unrest is a "learning experience" the university must move forward from with a tight focus.

He said the issue of race is centuries old; an "ugly, ugly history that permeates everything we do in our institutions in this country."

The University of Missouri is "serious" about being the university system that becomes a national leader in the matter of race relations.

“Our attention has been drawn to the magnitude of the problem," he said. "I think we’re at an opportune moment to take some giant steps forward to move this issue far beyond where it has been moved in the past, and I am committed to doing that.

Middleton graduated from MU in 1968. He was the third African-American graduate student to graduate from the MU Law School. He pursued a career in civil rights law in Washington, D.C., working as a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The University of Missouri School of Law's website said Middleton had an "illustrious career" in federal government before moving into education.

"After serving as Director of the Office of Systemic Programs for the EEOC and as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, he was appointed Associate General Counsel of the EEOC’s trial division," the website said.

KOMU 8 News spoke to Middleton and his wife Julie in 2013 about his role in creating social change since he came to MU in 1996. 

2013 Profile on Middleton's Impact on Black History by Micah Smith

Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton started out as an undergraduate student at MU in 1966. Although Middleton appreciates MU's diversity, this what not always the case.

"Several decades after Brown v. The Board of Education, within decades of the Lloyd Gaines case that actually happened on the University of Missouri's campus, you know it was Michael Middleton who was that guy to be admitted into the University of Missouri's Law School, to actually graduate , then go on to become the law professor," said Alpha Phi Alpha President Thomas Stovall.

MU was quite different when Middleton arrived on campus in 1966. There were less than 1,000 black students enrolled as undergraduates, there were hardly any organizations blacks could join, and the only black organization on campus was Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.

"I can remember frequently getting racial epithets hurled at me out of cars passing by at night accompanied by empty beer cans and sometimes half full beer cans," said Middleton.

Middleton sought to create social change on campus, something his family had done for years while living in Mississippi.

Middleton helped form and organize the Legion of Black Collegians and became the first president of the organization. Middleton is also a founder of the Zeta Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.

When he decided to go to law school Middleton became the first black graduate of MU's law school. After graduating Middleton made his way to Washington D.C. and began arguing civil rights and affirmative action cases.

He remembers his very first case vividly.

"I decided that I wanted to look into suing my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi for employment discrimination of blacks and women," said Middleton. Middleton worked for the US Department of Justice during that time. His investigation created social change In Jackson Mississippi and led to the desegregation the police department, fire department, and city administration.

In 1985 Middleton returned to MU as a law professor, and remains at MU.

From sitting in Jesse Hall as a student, protesting segregation, to sitting in Jesse Hall now as Deputy Chancellor, Michael Middleton's life has come full circle. Through his actions and determination he has devoted his life to making MU and the United States a better, more accepting place.

"He has inspired so man people not only in this community but nationally and I would actually say around the world," said Middleton's Wife, Julie Middleton.

While he appreciates the compliments his friends and family give him, Middleton said he just did what he had to, to get things done.