PRESIDENT MORRIS’ INSTALLATION
“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.