By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – What a year it has been for Barbara Jean Morris.
SUNY Oneonta president, who will be officially inaugurated Saturday, Oct. 5, re-envisioned the school’s Mission Statement to 13 words. (“We nurture a community where students grow intellectually, thrive socially and live purposefully”.)
She created an Office of Institutional Research to begin collecting campus data, working to reduce barriers to graduation, and strengthening adviser/student relationships.
She’s taught students some of her favorite recipes and instituted a campus-wide cookie bake-off.
Earlier this summer, she scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, using skills she attributed to her new life in the City of the Hills. “I had a loop that included this campus and the Hartwick College stairs,” she said. “It’s quite a workout!”
Of her inauguration as the college’s eighth president – she took office July 1, 2018 – she says, “This is a chance for the campus to come together and make sure that students, alumni and the community are welcomed to celebrate with us.
“It’s not about me. It’s about us.”
Morris had a hand in designing the elaborate invitation, a fold-out card with a feather – with eight divisions for the eighth president – inside a circle, an homage to her Native American heritage.
“The circle symbolizes balance and harmony,” she said. “And the feather is a dedication to my father, Bobby Morris. He was Cherokee and Comanche.”
Her father died in his sleep in 2010 while camping at the base of California’s Mount Whitney. “The first people who responded came from the Paiute Nation, and they told my mother ‘He must have been special – a Red Tail hawk left feathers, and they do not leave them lightly.”
But the planned celebrations are not just confined to receptions. Morris organized two on-campus service events: a food drive to benefit both the SUNY Oneonta food pantry and local food banks, as well as a toiletries drive through “SUNY Has Your Back,” a statewide program which asks colleges to put together backpacks of necessities for the victims of domestic violence.
“Food insecurity and domestic violence are important issues to me,” she said. “There are moments in my life where I was poor, where I was on welfare. Those challenges are real.”
So far, the food bank initiative has collected 1,556 pounds of food.
Among those speaking at her inauguration is one of her former University of Redlands political science students, Congressman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.
“It’s amazing when you see your students do well for themselves out in the world,” she said.
In Year One, she has just scratched the surface.
“We’re working on our strategic plan,” she said. “We need to ask ourselves what it means to offer a relevant educational experience that educates the whole student.”
Part of that includes the Office of Institutional Research beginning to assess not only what students need in terms of facilities and services, but also what the workforce – regional and national – is looking for. “It’s about what we need today, but also what we need for the future,” she said. “We need to be looking at how students are learning in fifth grade, because we need to be prepared when they come to us.”
The campus will also undergo a series of capital projects, including building a new Emergency Services building, renovations to Alumni Hall and re-turfing the baseball fields. “We’ll be drawing up a facilities master plan to align with the student services and academic plans,” she said. “It’s about future-proofing our institution.”