WEST FRANKFORT — Former U.S. Rep. and Southern Illinois University System President Glenn Poshard has been named president of Morthland College, a private Christian liberal arts college in West Frankfort that opened in 2011.
The Morthland College Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name Poshard to the post, effective Monday, the college said in a news release on Tuesday morning. Dr. Tim Morthland, the college’s founding president, will transition into a role as chairman of the board as Poshard becomes the second president of the fledgling college.
“I thought about it a lot and prayed about it and just decided this was something that would be a challenge and I’d like to give it my best effort,” Poshard said in an interview with The Southern Illinoisan.
Poshard said the board chose him, and he also thought he would be a good fit, because of his experience at SIU with two of Morthland College’s primary goals for the years ahead: implementing a comprehensive building plan and seeking accreditation for the college by the Higher Learning Commission.
Under Morthland’s direction, Morthland College has been nationally accredited by Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, and the Illinois Board of Higher Education has awarded the school degree-granting authority.
But accreditation by the mainstream accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, one of six regional institutional accreditors in the U.S. for universities and colleges, could elevate its academic status and reputation.
Poshard said he was highly involved in drafting and implementing SIU’s building plan that included a new Student Services Building, football stadium and expansion and renovations of other facilities on campus, and also was involved in a re-accreditation for SIU by the Higher Learning Commission.
Following his political career, Poshard served as the seventh president of the SIU System from 2006 to 2014. He previously served three years on the SIU Board of Trustees, including a term as chairman, and prior to that, as vice chancellor for administration at SIU, from 1999 to 2002.
His nine years at the helm of SIU were sometimes controversial as he butted heads with a former chancellor and board chairman, and former Gov. Pat Quinn. And during what marked a tumultuous period of time in the university’s recent history, Poshard was among those who faced accusations of plagiarism. He was cleared by a review panel of any intentional plagiarism, though was asked to make citation corrections to his dissertation that had earned him a doctoral degree in education from SIU.
Enrollment continued a downward trend and tuition costs escalated while he was president, though there are complex reasons for both. He was succeeded at the university by current SIU System President Randy Dunn.
Poshard is widely credited for his deep commitment to the region and to education at all levels, and has been a public servant for decades. He and his wife, Jo, are co-founders of The Poshard Foundation for Abused Children and have helped raise thousands of dollars for area social services agencies that serve vulnerable youth populations.
Poshard will lead Morthland College as it prepares to add five new degree programs, according to the news release from the institution, which cites Poshard’s history of leadership with integrity and his faith-based stance, as well as a history of sound fiscal management and successful building projects as factors that made him the “perfect person for the job.”
“No one more suitable could be selected as Morthland College’s next president,” Morthland said.
For his part, Morthland plans to turn his attention to the college’s related enterprises — a series of guilds designed to support the local school and rebuild the region’s economy including Morthland College Health Services and Da Vinci Beverages, an energy drink, the news release states. Morthland said he will devote more of his time to his role as chief executive officer of these guilds.
“We weren’t supposed to sit still, ever,” Morthland said, in the college’s statement. “We were called to keep dreaming, to keep building, to keep casting vision forward.”
In September, Poshard was named to the John A. Logan College Board of Trustees to fill a board vacancy that was created with the passing of Bill Alstat, who died the previous month.
Poshard said he plans to continue to serve in that capacity, and has cleared his ability to do so with the community college’s administrators and legal counsel. Poshard said it is not a conflict of interest because Morthland College is not a direct competitor of John A. Logan, he said. The students who attend Morthland College are specifically seeking a faith-based education, and would likely attend another faith-based institution if Morthland College were not an option regionally, as opposed to SIU or John A. Logan College, Poshard said.
Morthland College enrolls about 450 students in on-campus and online courses, Poshard said.
Prior to his roles at SIU, Poshard served in the Illinois General Assembly and U.S. Congress, and unsuccessfully ran for governor on the Democratic ticket in 1998 against Republican then-Secretary of State George Ryan. He was first appointed to the Illinois Senate in 1984, to fill a vacancy. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1988, and served for just more than a decade, until 1999.
Poshard said he has known Morthland for some time, and in recent months the two discussed the feasibility of establishing an institute within the college dedicated to faith and politics.
As Poshard envisions it, the yet-to-be named institute would be somewhat similar to The Faith & Politics Institute in Washington that grew out of a weekly reflection group for members of Congress and staff that Poshard said began in his congressional office. Poshard said he met the institute’s founder, Rev. Doug Tanner, among others, at a freshman orientation for new members of Congress.
The weekly prayer meetings began based on a conversation they had about how a Christian is to navigate the world, particularly in regards to faith and politics.
Much of that discussion, Poshard said, was based on Matthew 22:21, which reads: “Jesus said, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'”
Poshard said he would like the institute, which he still hopes to establish as the college’s president, to be used to bring in guest speakers, host discussions and organize specific courses around this question, as it relates to students in whatever career path they may choose to follow.
Tuesday marked his first day on the job.