COLUMBIA, Mo. — After Michael Middleton founded the Legion of Black Collegians, he personally delivered a list of race-related demands to the University of Missouri chancellor in 1969.
Some might call it fitting, then, that he takes the helm of the university's system after the group Concerned Student 1950 handed in its list of demands for racial inclusion and shared governance.
"It is clear to me the first step is to devote attention to addressing those demands," Middleton, 68, said Thursday at a news conference. "It is imperative to hear from all students and do everything we can to make them comfortable and safe in our community."
The University of Missouri Board of Curators tapped Middleton, the university's first African-American law professor, to serve as interim president after the resignation of Timothy Wolfe earlier this week following criticism of Wolfe's handling of a series of racist incidents.
Middleton said Thursday that he has met with members of Concerned Student 1950 to work toward satisfying the group's demands. He specifically noted the goal of increasing the number of faculty members of color on campus.
He urged the university community to talk about racism and racial relations.
"One of the things impeding our ability to get beyond these issues is our inability to talk about it," Middleton said. "We have to understand our ugly history permeates everything we do at this institution and in this country. Once we get this truth on the table, we're poised to reconcile those differences."
On Twitter, the student group said its members "are excited for the new leadership under Interim President Middleton!"
Middleton said that for now, he is not interested in the permanent position. He currently holds the dual titles of deputy chancellor emeritus and professor emeritus of law.
On Aug. 31, Middleton retired as deputy chancellor after holding that position for 17 years. Before being chosen as interim president, he had a part-time role directing inclusion, diversity and equity efforts on campus.