The St. Lawrence University Board of Trustees announced on Thursday, February 4, that Kathryn A. Morris, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, has been selected as the University’s 19th President.
“On behalf of the Laurentian network across the country and around the world, I want to welcome Kathryn Morris to our community,” said Michael Ranger ’80, P’17, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees. “She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, an authentic down-to-earth style, and an inspiring innovative spirit that will serve St. Lawrence well during this extraordinary time in higher education.”
Morris has dedicated her life to higher education and chose to become a professor because she understood the impact of teaching and mentoring on students’ lives. She comes to St. Lawrence after a distinguished career at Butler University, where she has most recently served as the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs for the past eight years. In that role, she has been responsible for leading six academic colleges, played a critical role in strategic planning, and led two Presidential Commissions on diversity and on sexual assault. At Butler, she helped drive key institutional priorities including enrollment growth and launch a $250 million comprehensive campaign. During the past year, she has demonstrated outstanding leadership as a key part of COVID-19 pandemic response team at Butler and oversaw the development of the “pivot pedagogy” summer program to prepare faculty for the 2020-21 academic year.
“I am deeply honored to join this passionate, adventurous, and welcoming community,” said Morris. “From the academic reputation to the breadth of co-curricular opportunities for students, there were so many things that made St. Lawrence an attractive place to call home. I was particularly impressed with the proactive institutional planning, including the most recent Experience St. Lawrence Task Force work, and the true commitment I saw to diversity and inclusion.”
“I am deeply honored to join this passionate, adventurous, and welcoming community. From the academic reputation to the breadth of co-curricular opportunities for students, there were so many things that made St. Lawrence an attractive place to call home." -Kathryn A. Morris
She was at the forefront of projects, initiatives, and campaigns that required innovative thinking and affected every member of the Butler community. Morris has helped guide the Butler 2020 strategic plan through development, implementation, and completion, as well as Butler Beyond, the University’s new strategic direction and comprehensive fundraising campaign. She has led initiatives to launch new innovative academic programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and been closely involved in efforts that set the stage for a broader and enhanced institutional reputation at Butler, including enrollment management and fundraising initiatives.
Morris sought out ways to continually enhance the academic experience at Butler by making significant investments in academic technology, including the transition to two new learning management systems, a faculty activity reporting system, and a forthcoming student success platform. She also developed pathways for career advancement for non-tenure-track faculty, created a faculty recognition program, and implemented the first staff development program at Butler.
“Throughout the search process, Dr. Morris demonstrated a clear and compelling love for a liberal arts education,” said Trustee Marion Roach Smith ’77, chair of the Presidential Search Committee. “The committee was captivated by her pragmatic approach to problem solving as well as her warmth and down-to-earth connection with the constituencies most important to St. Lawrence – our faculty, students, staff, alumni, parents, and trustees.”
Morris’ deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is evident in the leadership role she played with Butler’s 2014-2015 Presidential Commission on Diversity, as well as the adoption of a university-wide academic requirement, the campus programming she developed, and the National Science Foundation-funded research on prejudice reduction she enthusiastically pursued while a faculty member. She put a substantive focus on enhancing the representational diversity of the faculty in an effort to create a faculty body that is as racially and ethnically diverse as the student body.
“Dr. Morris expressed not only an interest in diversity and equity, but has tangible experience in what it takes to build a more inclusive community,” said Kimberly Flint-Hamilton, associate dean for diversity and inclusion and member of the Presidential Search Committee. “Her vision of diversity, equity, and inclusion as central to academic institutions, and the way she prioritizes kindness and respect in all her interactions, exemplify what it means to have a truly inclusive community, and align with our values and goals at St. Lawrence.”
“Dr. Morris expressed not only an interest in diversity and equity, but has tangible experience in what it takes to build a more inclusive community." -Kimberly Flint-Hamilton, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion
Prior to her time as provost, Morris served as a professor of psychology and was chair of that department at Butler. Her areas of expertise include social psychology, the psychology of gender, methodology, and statistics. Morris is a charter member and the first president of Butler's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and has received numerous honors and awards during her time at Butler.
Morris earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Gettysburg College and both master‘s and Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. She has also served as a member of the board of trustees at her undergraduate alma mater since 2015.
“As a faculty member, what I find most exciting about Dr. Morris is her leadership style—intuitive and inquisitive at the same time. While she has a great sense for the challenges that lie ahead for higher education, she brings to the challenge her unique mix of innovation, compassion, problem-solving and decisiveness,” said Ronnie Olesker, associate professor of government and member of the Presidential Search Committee. “I look forward to working collaboratively as we design the best liberal arts education to prepare Laurentians for the second half of the 21st century.”
"What I find most exciting about Dr. Morris is her leadership style—intuitive and inquisitive at the same time. While she has a great sense for the challenges that lie ahead for higher education, she brings to the challenge her unique mix of innovation, compassion, problem-solving, and decisiveness." -Ronnie Olesker, Associate Professor of Government
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizing the traditional campus welcome that would be expected by the Laurentian community proved impossible to do safely and in accordance with local and state health directives. The Presidential Search Committee plans to host small group opportunities to welcome the new president during the next month. These gatherings will be held in a virtual format and more information on these opportunities will be shared in the coming weeks.
Morris will move to Canton this summer with her husband, Brian Giesler, who is a member of the psychology department at Butler University. They have two children: a son, Logan, who is a senior at Augustana College, and a daughter, Erin, who is a sophomore at Butler University. They will be joined in Canton by their dog, Comet, who is a black lab mix rescue.
The search committee was unanimous in its support of Morris, as was the University’s Board of Trustees. Morris will begin her tenure on July 1, 2021. She will succeed President William L. Fox ’75, who announced his retirement in August 2020 and has served as St. Lawrence’s president since 2009.
About the Search
In late August 2020, St. Lawrence University’s Board of Trustees leadership appointed a Presidential Search Committee that conducted a national search. The committee was chaired by trustee Marion Roach Smith ’77 and included members from the faculty, staff, student and alumni bodies as well as University trustees. The University retained the services of Isaacson, Miller, an executive search firm, to assist with this effort. Early in the process, the committee met with faculty, students, staff, board members, alumni, and parents to gain a better understanding of the University, and the areas of opportunity for St. Lawrence’s next leader, as well as the qualifications and experience the Laurentian community seeks in presidential candidates. The committee received a robust and positive response to the presidential prospectus and had conversations with hundreds of potential candidates and helpful sources.
Based on advice from Isaacson, Miller and industry best practices, the Board of Trustees decided to conduct a confidential search, which means the candidates are not introduced to the full community until they have accepted the position and are announced publicly. This is standard practice in higher education for presidential searches to attract the best possible pool of candidates.