The University of Missouri System named Michael Middleton, a retired, black university administrator, as its interim president Thursday amid recent protests over alleged racial injustices on campus. System president Tim Wolfe resigned Monday.
"I am honored to accept the appointment as interim president of the UM System, and lead our state's premier university during this extraordinary time," Middleton said in a statement, according to the Columbia Missourian. "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."
In 1964, at the height of the civil rights movement, Middleton became the first black student to be admitted to the University of Missouri, the Columbia Missourian reported. After earning a law degree, Middleton, 68, worked as a civil rights lawyer in Washington, D.C.
According to his LinkedIn page, Middleton served as a law professor at the University of Missouri School of Law from 1985 to 2015, and as the university's deputy chancellor for 19 years, from 1996 to 2015.
A university on the edge: Protesters calling for Wolfe's resignation got their wish Monday, when Wolfe formally stepped down. In a tweet, university administrators asked the community to join them in welcoming Middleton.
Student protesters who took issue with Wolfe accused him of mishandling instances of racial injustice on campus. Tensions heightened over the weekend when a group of black players on the university's varsity football team vowed to strike until Wolfe resigned. On Sunday, the athletics department issued a statement of support for its players.
And on Wednesday, university leadership released a statement in which they addressed violence and threats levied against black students on campus due to the ongoing turmoil. In its statement, the leadership called the threats "reprehensible."
"The process of making our campus as inclusive as it must be will not be easy," the leadership said in the statement. "We have difficult conversations ahead, and we must all dedicate ourselves to learning together." They continue:
For those of you who are discouraged, we hope you will see what we have seen in the last fifteen months and especially in the last few weeks. We have watched faculty, many of whom have great expertise in social justice, act with extraordinary compassion to our students, and we have benefitted greatly from our amazing staff who are dedicated to making Mizzou the best it can be. Finally, we have witnessed our brave students who sacrificed their own needs to do work that should have been done long before they joined our community. We feel the weight of the world's eyes upon us. We will not flinch from the work ahead.
On Friday, a panel of Missouri faculty will meet to discuss their experience teaching in an effort to foster dialogue on campus, according to Wednesday's statement.