The University of Missouri's governing board on Thursday appointed one of its first black law school graduates to be the university system's interim president, and he vowed to address the frustrations behind student-led protests that helped force his predecessor from office.
Michael Middleton, 68, cited his 30 years at the university, where he was an undergraduate before attending its law school and going on to be a faculty member and administrator.
"I have seen the system grow and excel over the years and I look with great optimism in the future," said Middleton, who resigned in August as deputy chancellor of the system's flagship campus in Columbia.
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."
Middleton takes over for Tim Wolfe, who abruptly resigned on Monday amid student-led protests over his administration's handling of racial complaints.
Middleton had been working part-time with the campus' chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, on a plan to increase inclusion and diversity at the school. Loftin also announced Monday he was stepping down at the end of the year and would take another position at the school, but the governing board said in a statement Thursday that the timeline had been accelerated and that the interim chancellor, Hank Foley, has already assumed the role.
The resignations came after 30 black members of the football team gave a big boost to the protest movement by vowing not to take part in team activities until Wolfe was gone.
MU Policy Now, a student group made up of graduate and professional students, had been pushing for Middleton's appointment.
"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.
Middleton has a bachelor's degree from Missouri and became one of the first black graduates of the law school in 1971. He worked with the federal government in Washington and was a trial attorney in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division before joining the university law faculty in 1985.
He also helped found the Legion of Black Collegians, a student group involved in the current protest, and himself participated in previous campus protests for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.
He was interim vice provost for minority affairs and faculty development starting in 1997, and a year later was named deputy chancellor.
In that role, he was credited with turning women's studies and black studies programs into their own departments.
Meanwhile, a 19-year-old man accused of posting online threats to shoot blacks on the Columbia campus was expected to appear in court via a video link from jail, where he's being held on bond.
Hunter M. Park, a sophomore at one of the other University of Missouri System campuses in Rolla, is charged with making a terroristic threat, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
The threatening posts showed up Tuesday on the anonymous location-based messaging app Yik Yak, and were concerning enough that some classes were canceled and some Columbia businesses closed for the day. They were made during a time of racial unrest on campus that resulted in the resignations Monday of the university system president and the Columbia campus chancellor.
One of the threats said: "Some of you are alright. Don't go to campus tomorrow" — a warning campus police Officer Dustin Heckmaster said in a probable cause statement that he recognized as one that appeared ahead of last month's Oregon college shooting involving a gunman who killed nine people and himself.
Heckmaster wrote that Yik Yak willingly gave him the cellphone number that Tuesday's poster had used to create the account from which the threats originated. AT&T later told investigators that the number was Park's and that cellphone towers showed that the postings came from the Rolla area, the officer wrote.
University of Missouri-Columbia police records show the department had contact with Park last January, Heckmaster wrote without elaborating. Those records noted that Park was a student at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, where Heckmaster confronted Park early Wednesday in the sophomore computer science major's dorm room.
Heckmaster wrote that Park admitted the posts were "inappropriate." He said he asked if the threats amounted to "saber rattling," and Park responded, "pretty much."
When questioned specifically what he meant by the phrase, "Some of you are alright. Don't go to campus tomorrow," Park "smiled and stated, 'I was quoting something,'" Heckmaster wrote. When pressed whether it was mimicking the Oregon shooting's posting, Park replied, "Mmhmm."
When asked why, Park said, "I don't know. I just ... deep interest," Heckmaster wrote.
A message left on Park's mother's cellphone was not returned, and there was no response to knocks on the door of the family's home in the affluent St. Louis suburb of Lake St. Louis.
A second student was arrested at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville for allegedly posting a threat on Yik Yak that read, "I'm gonna shoot any black people tomorrow, so be ready." Nodaway County Prosecutor Robert Rice on Thursday filed one misdemeanor and one felony count of making a terrorist threat against Connor Stottlemyre, a freshman at the school in Maryville.
Authorities also were investigating another threat on Yik Yak, this one leveled at the Rolla campus by someone saying, "I'm gonna shoot up this school." And police at the Columbia campus say someone spray-painted over part of a sign early Thursday at the black culture center. They were reviewing video surveillance from the area, a school spokesman said.