SUNY Oneonta inaugurated Dr. Barbara Jean Morris today in a ceremony held at the Alumni Field House on campus.
More than 100 delegates, faculty, staff, alumni and students processed from the top of campus, passing through the college pillars, before entering the Field House to commence the ceremony. This was a nod to the SUNY Oneonta tradition when new students pass through the two remaining pillars of Old Main, the college’s original building, to signify a new beginning.
It All Starts With "We"
In her inauguration address, President Barbara Jean Morris challenged those gathered to confront the obstacles that face rural America and the disappearing middle class for the sake of education, stating that it all starts with “we.”
“As perceptions of value fade, the cost of college skyrockets and the commitment of state and federal governments to support higher education declines, we must have the courage to challenge the status quo, test our assumptions and ask difficult questions regarding our relevancy and impact,” Dr. Morris said in her inauguration speech to an assembly of college and university delegates, politicians, students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.
As SUNY Oneonta’s second female president, Dr. Morris noted the diversity present at the ceremony. “Women and underrepresented minorities in leadership are over-represented here today. I cannot explain the social science behind what is happening right now, but I am proud of this moment.”
Dr. Morris mentioned the touchstone for her special day, a symbol of a feather in a circle that was present on the ceremony’s banners and program. She spoke of its importance, saying, “The Native American symbol of the circle best illustrates my desire for a community that is based on mutual understanding, respect, communication and a shared commitment.” Dr. Morris went on to explain that the feather is a tribute to her father and read a Cherokee poem, “O’siyo Father,” in his honor.
Support From Leaders, Faculty, Students and Staff
Local leaders expressed their support. State Senator James L. Seward spoke of Dr. Morris’ immersion in the Oneonta community and her positive impact. “I was especially struck by the college’s new mission statement developed under President Morris: ‘We nurture a community where students grow intellectually, thrive socially and live purposefully,’” he said.
City of Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig commended Dr. Morris’ understanding of how different cultures impact and define leadership roles. “She has been a champion for the rights of women and Native Americans. At this point in time, as the City of Oneonta strives to become more diverse, I have no doubt that we will find leadership from President Morris,” he said.
Two speakers gave their impressions of Dr. Morris as past and present students, noting her compassion as a leader and her willingness to hear what others have to say. Pete Aguilar, a U.S. Representative from California's 31st Congressional District and a former student of Dr. Morris, said, “She uniquely possesses the right mix of leadership, mentorship and the ability to listen that is needed to lead a campus.” Timothy Nolan, SUNY Oneonta Student Association president, said, “The investment in her new home is clear and her willingness to listen is promising.”
Others offering remarks included Patrick Brown, College Council chair; Deborah F. Stanley, SUNY Oswego president; William Wilkerson, presiding officer of the faculty, chair of the College Senate and professor of political science; Graig Eichler, assistant director of business services; Andrea Casper ’75, College Foundation Board president; and Noelle Norton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, University of San Diego.
Processional and recessional music was performed by the SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College Chamber Orchestra and the Leatherstocking District Pipe Band. SUNY Oneonta’s West African Drum Ensemble and World Chorus performed musical selections that reflected the cultures of Ghana and Indonesia. A special interlude, “Dancing With Dr. Morris,” was performed by the student group, XClusive Dance Crew. Music Department Lecturer Colby Thomas ’84 sang “America the Beautiful” and SUNY Oneonta’s alma mater.
The ceremony culminated in the investiture, the moment when Dr. Morris was officially installed in her role as president. SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson presented Dr. Morris with SUNY Oneonta’s presidential collar, a metal necklace with the college’s seal as its medallion.
Chancellor Johnson gave reasons Dr. Morris makes a great leader, noting that mutual understanding, respect, communication and shared commitment inform her philosophy on education. “Dr. Morris believes that colleges and universities should be learning communities based on respect, and from this, shared governance, including participation by students.”
The chancellor went on to say that Dr. Morris is “a fierce educator who is dedicated to fostering a community committed to student learning, scholarly endeavors and an interdisciplinary understanding of the world around us.”
About Dr. Morris
President Morris came to SUNY Oneonta in July 2018 from her position as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. In her seven-year tenure there, she reported to the president and served as chief academic officer, overseeing educational policy and programs of instruction; the development and assessment of academic programs; and faculty recruitment and development. She also had broad oversight of internal operations, including strategic planning, data-driven modeling, budgeting, fundraising, and state and legislative policy. Prior to her position at Fort Lewis, President Morris served 16 years at University of Redlands in southern California, where she held many leadership roles and rose to the position of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Get to know Dr. Morris in this web story titled, "Ain't no mountain high enough".
Read President Morris’ full inauguration address
See a photo gallery from the event