The University of Missouri Board of Curators announced Thursday that Mike Middleton, a black deputy chancellor emeritus of the Columbia campus, would be interim president of the system.
The board selected Middleton during a three-hour closed session on Wednesday, the Columbia Tribune reported.
Middleton's appointment comes in the wake of weeks of student protests against the handling of alleged racism on campus, culminating in the resignation of University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and system President Tim Wolfe. The tipping point came when the football team refused to play until Wolfe resigned.
Wolfe was to remain as caretaker until his successor was appointed.
"Our first step is to devote our attention to address the demands from Concerned Student 1950," Middleton said at the news conference, referring to the demands made by the student organization that has been active in mobilizing the protests. "I intend to lead this university to satisfying each and every one of those demands that can be satisfied."
Middleton has been part of the MIzzou community for over 30 years, graduating from the university in 1968 and obtaining his law degree in 1971. He was a law professor at MU starting in 1985 and was deputy chancellor for 17 years before retiring in August.
Middleton said as the student founder of the Legion of Black Colleges at Mizzou, the only black student government in the U.S., he delivered a list of demands to the chancellor in 1969 and was an administrator at Mizzou when he received another list of demands from the LBC in 2005.
"It is imperative that we hear all of our students and do everything we can to make them comfortable and safe in our community," Middleton said.
He added that he expects that the fact that he is black "will be met with criticism from some parts of our community."
"I also suspect color was a factor in the judgement that I was the person at this time to take this position," he said.
Middleton pursued a career focusing on civil rights, first as an attorney in Washington D.C., and later working at the U.S. Department of Education, according to a UM press release.
"Mike Middleton is the best person to lead the system during this critical period of transition, with 30 years of leadership experience on the MU campus and past service as a civil rights attorney," Donald Cupps, chair of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, said in a statement.
Middleton promised swift action against any incidents of racially motivated behavior on campus.
"One thing that will not be tolerated is harmful or hurtful actions to any members of our university community," he said. "Any incident will be addressed swiftly and the party involved will be held accountable for its actions."
"I'm going to do everything I can to move this institution forward."
In a statement, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon praised the selection of "widely-respected leader" who is committed to the university and its students.
"With interim leadership in place, I urge the Board of Curators to select a permanent president through a process that is thoughtful, transparent, inclusive, and efficient.
I look forward to working with President Middleton and his permanent successor to continue to improve higher education for the benefit of all Missouri students."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at email@example.com.
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