PRESIDENT MORRIS’ INSTALLATION
BARBARA JEAN MORRIS PRAISED
FOR GROUND-BREAKING CAREER
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Barbara Jean Morris’ installation as eighth SUNY Oneonta president Saturday, Oct. 5, revealed her lighter side.
Longtime pal Noelle Norton, a dean at the University of San Diego, reported the two ladies stopping at the Boston Bloomingdale’s perfume counter two decades ago en route to a conference to present the first draft of their paper, “Faith and Sex: Presidents Under Pressure,” (eventually published by Norton in 2008.)
There, “we sprayed ourselves with serious amounts of Issey Miyake perfume,” Norton said. “We thought we would make quite an impression on all the male scholars in the room and had quite a bit of fun doing it.”
Since, Morris and Norton have used the perfume daily, and “think of each other fondly each morning – and the study of the presidency,” she said.
It revealed a more serious, focused side, too.
A divorced mother of three who years before had turned down an appointment to West Point, she – with help from mom Betty – got a San Diego U degree, joined the University of Redlands in 1996 and rose to dean of arts & science within a decade. In less than two decades was provost & vice president at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.
When she applied for SUNY Oneonta’s top job, her vita was in a tall a stack – #147 – but it jumped out, College Council Chairman Patrick Brown told the 1,000 faculty, staff, students and well-wishers from the community in the Dewar Arena ceremony.
In preparing his remarks, Brown said, “I looked at the notes I made when I first reviewed the candidate resumes. Of course, they were all numbers then. Next to candidate 147 I wrote a single word — grit.”
“Barbara Morris’ story is one of struggle and overcoming cultural and economic barriers and it is one of persistence and ultimate triumph,” he said. He recalled the interview, and that all her answers focused on students, “especially the student who might not fit in; who was, like myself, the first in the family to attend college,” said Brown, a partner in his own Albany-area law firm.
“This natural, authentic, student-centered approach is what led the search committee to conclude this is a woman who GETS SUNY Oneonta.”
That sensibility toward inclusion was reflected in Saturday’s entertainment: the XClusive Dance Crew’s contemporary performance, the West African Drum Ensemble’s traditional Ghanaian “Gota,” and the college’s World Chorus singing the Javanese “Luk Luk Lumbu,” translated as “The Bending Taro Leaves.”
All of this was restated in SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson remarks that preceded the formal installation, from Morris’ “misspent youth,” her “fierce advocacy,” her intention to prepare students to work toward “a more just, humane and sustainable world.”
The two-hour ceremony included “greetings” to the new president from politicians (state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and Mayor Gary Herzig), college leaders (Faculty Senate chair William R. Wilkerson, Graig Eichler from business services, and Tim Nolan, Student Association President), to friends like Norton.
A highlight was Congressman Pete Aguilar, Democrat from Redlands, a one-time Morris student. “Barbara wasn’t very imposing,” he remembered. “She’s tiny in stature and rarely raised her voice in the classroom. But she was deadly with a red pen in her hand. I have the transcript to prove it. But she connected with her students through the power of storytelling and just being honest.”
Throughout the ceremony, the usually cheerful Morris wore a somber demeanor, perhaps reflecting on the distance traveled or the challenges of the past few days, a phone hoax that upset some of the campus community.
After a talk that thanked her mother, her three children, and friends and wellwishers, she ended on a serious note:
“We have endured, and we have served. We will not be silent, and we are determined to make the path easier for those who chose to join us,” she said. “Let us stand together not only as worthy examples but as warriors for change for our students.”
Now with a broad smile, she led the recessional through the applauding auditorium.