ONEONTA – A SUNY Oneonta employee has tested positive for COVID-19 in the school’s first confirmed case, SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris has announced.
According to a press release from the college, the affected employee is not at work and has been quarantined on campus since April 6, except when the individual was transported off campus to be tested for COVID-19.
ONEONTA – More than 1,000 seniors will return to SUNY Oneonta in this summer to receive their degrees at a belated commencement ceremony, scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 29.
Three ceremonies will be at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. in the Alumni Field House.
“Especially now, against a backdrop of adversity and change, it is vital to remember and celebrate all that we are achieving,” said President Barbara Jean Morris. “I look forward to welcoming members of the Class of 2020 back to campus and congratulating each of them in person this summer.”
ONEONTA – Both local college presidents – SUNY Oneonta’s Barbara Jean Morris and Hartwick’s Margaret L. Drugovich – this evening announced they will be shifting to online instruction, beginning Monday, March 23.
In sending the students home, both are acting out of concern about the unknown dimension of the coronavirus outbreak, which has emerged downstate and in Saratoga County.
In a statement issued at 7:50 p.m., SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris said she was following Governor Cuomo’s directive, issued this afternoon, that “instruction across SUNY will move to other modalities.”
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.
“As chief executive officer, you are assigned all powers, duties and responsibilities appropriate to the post.”
KRISTINA M. JOHNSON • SUNY Chancellor
After the week that was, Barbara Jean Morris, SUNY Oneonta’s new president, must have heard those words with mixed feelings.
Just three days before her Saturday, Oct. 5, installation, a threat to shoot up the campus – it turned out to be a hoax – had shaken the college community.
Earlier this semester in a school year that is barely month old, a SUNY Oneonta student took his own life.
Neither of these happenings were the new president’s fault, yet they underscore the solemnity of what Dr. Morris is taking on: The responsibility for 6,000 students and 1,000 staff and faculty members.
It’s more than that. As one of the top five employers and a $100 million budget, it’s not too much to say that SUNY Oneonta’s president is responsible – not solely, but to a degree – for the welfare of an entire county, an entire region.
No wonder the new president appeared contemplative, to say the least, at such a celebratory ceremony.
Looking around the auditorium, a number of faculty members (retired) have been associated with the college since the fourth president, Royal Netzer, who was succeeded by Clifford Craven in 1970.
What changes they must have reflected upon, thinking back to Craven, Alan Donovan (1987) and Nancy Kleniewski (2008)?
“Pomp & Circumstance,” or perhaps Holst’s “The Planets” or something by Sibelius were replaced by a Ghanaian drum-driven dance and the XClusive Dance Crew’s hip hop number, fun. Not better or worse, necessarily, than entertainment at installations past, just different.
Particularly moving was the Javanese “Luk Luk Lumbu” (“The Bending Taro Leaves”), delivered by the 100-plus student World Chorus. It packed the wallop of a Handel chorus.
In her remarks, SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson used terms like “competitive,” “fearless,” even “fierce” to describe the newest of her 64 college presidents. Perhaps then, but that’s not the sense you get about Barbara Jean Morris today – words like “diplomatic,” “upbeat,” “human” come to mind.
The sense of nostalgia was further evoked by her friend and San Diego university dean Noelle Norton’s whimsical story about the two dousing themselves in perfume back in the 1990s before delivering a paper, “Faith and Sex: Presidents Under Pressure,” at a presumably mostly white, male symposium in Boston in the 1990s.
Several speakers remarked that Morris is SUNY Oneonta’s second female president. When is that no longer news? The third? The seventh?
You might have come away feeling Barbara Jean Morris’ tenure won’t be – or shouldn’t be – about the celebrated rise of women (and blacks and other formerly outcast minorities) over the past half-century.
The faculty in the processional was mostly women, with many minorities of both sexes. Chancellor Johnson is an openly gay woman, as are four SUNY campus presidents. Students and audience members fully represented a cross-section of the United States as is and where it’s going.
Despite the public debate about race, hate, immigration, white supremacy, looking around the Dewar Arena the other day, you had to conclude the battle is won. If anything, over-won: 60 percent of SUNY Oneonta’s students are women, compared to 40 percent men; nationally, it was 56-44 in 2015. Is it time to look for a new balance?
Some would argue today’s much-remarked-upon national divide can be blamed, to large degree, on our colleges and universities, with the replacement of the Western Canon with gender and ethnic studies, and the exaltation of PC.
Now, why shouldn’t higher education in general, and SUNY Oneonta – and Hartwick College – in particular, play a role in building a new synthesis based on acceptance of the new reality? To wit, we are living in a multi-ethnic nation, where parity between sexes and among genders is widely accepted.
The revolution is over.
When she had to be, Dr. Morris may indeed have been competitive, fearless and even fierce. Now, her diplomacy, optimism and humanity will be more in demand.
Her new 13-word mission statement for SUNY Oneonta was much remarked upon at her installation: “We nurture a community where students grow intellectually, thrive socially and live purposefully.”
With a little adjustment, it sounds like a workable foundation for a future American society at large.
SUNY Oneonta’s newly minted eighth president, Barbara Jean Morris, top photo, leads the recessional from the Dewar Arena’s platform shortly before 1 p.m. this afternoon after a two-hour ceremony that included an invocation by Mohawk spiritual leader Thomas Porter (behind Morris), and student performances by the college’s XClusive Dance Crew; and Gota, a traditional Ghanaian dance, and Luk Luk Lumbu, a Javanese dance, accompanied by the college’s World Chorus. Next to the new president, who assumed her responsibilities on July 1, 2018, is SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson, who conducted the official inauguration. In her inaugural address, Dr. Morris, who was raised in the San Diego area and was a college administrator in Colorado, recognized her mother, inset photo, whom she credited with helping her through through early challenges as a single parent of three children, who also stood and were recognized by the 1,000 attendees in the Alumni Field House. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
SCI-FI & HORROR – 11 a.m. Day 2 of the strange and horrific festival. Features authors, vendors, speakers, activities, more. Cost, $6/person for day pass. Foothills Performing Arts Center, Oneonta. Visit www.facebook.com/SciFiHorroFest/
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.”
OPENING RECEPTION – 5 – 7 p.m. Celebrate group art exhibit “The Land On Which We Gather,” honoring new SUNY president Barbara Jean Morris. Features 40+ works by 8 artists of native descent in various mediums from painting to beading, sculpture. Martin-Mullen Art Gallery, SUNY Oneonta. 607-436-3456 or visit suny.oneonta.edu/art-department/art-galleries
FROM TANZANIA – For Barbara Jean Morris, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was the fulfillment of a promise made to a friend.
“A high school dear friend had decided to summit on his birthday three years ago,” the SUNY Oneonta president said over email. “But he unexpectedly passed away, so the trip was canceled. I decided that it would be special to summit on my 60th birthday.”
On Friday, July 26, Morris, now finishing her first year as SUNY Oneonta’s president, made it to Kilimanjaro’s summit, Uhuru Peak, 19,340 feet. A photo on SUNY Oneonta’s Twitter account showed her in front of the peak sign, holding a cardboard figure of Red, the college’s Red Dragon mascot.
Some 1,500 graduates took their final walk across the stage at this morning and afternoon in three-session SUNY Oneonta’s 130th Commencement in the Dewar Arena. Above, graduate Michael Bagby, Oneonta, shakes hands with SUNY President Barbara Jean Morris, who gave her first commencement to the class of ’19. At right, Oneonta’s Sapphira Koerner beams as she and her fellow students march out during the recessional. Two alumni delivered commencement addresses at separate ceremonies: James C. Zachos, ’81, a widely published paleoclimatologist, professor of geology, and National Academy of Sciences member,, spoke at the first session; Crystal L. Williams, ’77, CEO and executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, spoke at the two others. Also, eight faculty members and four students received Chancellor Awards for Excellence (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)