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Consider the source
A bicyclist rides past a statue of former Southern Illinois University president Delyte Morris on the Carbondale campus. SIU doesn't show up on many online ranking lists, but Victoria Valle, the school's assistant vice chancellor of enrollment management, says, 'Rankings are just that — rankings. They can be helpful guides. But you have to look at the source.' (Paul Newton / The Southern)

When Delyte Morris came to Southern Illinois Normal University in 1948, he had a vision that the institution could be much more than a teacher's college. He succeeded.

Morris served as president from 1948 to 1970. Students see his statue every day in front of Allyn Hall. The campus library is named after him as is the coffee shop inside that library. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville named their student center after him. Stephen Katsinas, visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU Carbondale, gave a presentation in October about Morris' vision for the university in October. He said Morris devoted his life to the betterment of SIU.

"He basically worked night and day for 23 years to promote SIU's development," Katsinas said. "It was his life - and a manifestation of good social works embedded in his Methodist faith. He had much help, including his right hand Charles Tenney, and good board leadership, too, that included John Page Wham. He specifically looked for good curricular department heads and deans who could build strong academic programs, and who were intrigued by the opportunity to build something from scratch."

Katsinas said while Morris' resolve was strong he did not have unanimous support. He said Gov. Adlai Stevenson II did not support the ambitious undertaking and appointed board members to deter Morris. He said other universities were not the biggest fans of Morris either and eventually changes in the student population, particularly surrounding Vietnam War protests, took its toll on him.

But his resolve paid off for the region and students who were looking to get a fair shake in higher education. Under Morris' leadership the university became one of the first institutions to be accessible to students with disabilities.

"I think (Morris) set the tone for accommodating students," SIU President Glenn Poshard said in a past interview. "I think our campus has been better off for it for years."

Comedian and activist Dick Gregory, a former SIU student, spoke highly of Morris when he returned to the region to be honored at the Varsity Center for the Arts. He said at a speech to students that at during his time he could not eat in the restaurants that his white teammates on the track team ate at but Morris was much more respectful.

"It was the first time I had been around a powerful white man who didn't call me boy," Gregory said.

John Holmes, director of Build Homes, Rebuilding Lives program at Lutheran Social Services in Marion, was a fraternity brother to Gregory. He spoke in a past interview about the positive relationship between Morris and Gregory.

"One of the things (Gregory) did was that he would go out on Saturday morning and run the track and then go over to Morris' house for breakfast," Holmes said.

Katsinas said three main factors to build SIU into a major university. He said the first was that Morris built on SIU at a time when there was no local competition from other institutions such as community colleges. He said the second factor came from legislators from both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Paul Simon. But the third factor came from Morris' leadership.

He said, "It took a Delyte Morris to develop a pro-growth institutional and regional agenda that an outstanding set of civic and legislative leaders could get excited about."

 

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