History-Making Professor: As the Nation's First out University President, Charles R. Middleton Is Determined to Make Chicago's Roosevelt U. "A Welcoming Place". (Behind the Headlines)

Article excerpt

In early March, Charles R. Middleton, with full academic pomp and circumstance, was officially installed as president of Roosevelt University, a school with 7,500 students on campuses in downtown Chicago and suburban Schaumburg, Ill. Middleton is Roosevelt's fifth president, but he is also a first: the first openly gay president of a major U.S. university.

Named after Franklin and Eleanor, Roosevelt University was founded in 1945 by a group of teachers and administrators who walked out of Chicago's Central YMCA College to protest a proposed quota system to restrict minority admissions. Middleton, 57, a British history scholar and former vice-chancellor for academic affairs for the University System of Maryland, found that commitment to open admissions inviting.

The March installation ceremony was actually a belated formality, as Middleton took over as Roosevelt's president last summer, when he and his partner of 22 years, DePaul University Spanish professor John Geary, settled into a town house in Chicago's Dearborn Park--within walking distance of the downtown campus. The Advocate spoke to the president on the eve of his official installation.

Does Roosevelt's commitment to social justice have anything to do with its being the first to hire an openly gay president?

They were looking for a president who's got experience, who understands the rhythm and the imperatives of higher education, and who has a concept of where the institution is going. But for Roosevelt, I think, as one trustee has said, hiring a gay president was like the next step in the institution's fundamental commitment to opportunity for people irrespective of their status as individuals--be that their religion, ethnicity, their national origin, their sexual orientation, or a whole range of other things.

Has being out hampered your career at all?

My partner would have a lot more to say about this. …