Delyte Morris: Southern Illinois’ higher education champion

Southern Illinois University President Delyte W. Morris at his desk in the inner office of the President's Office when it was located in Shryock Auditorium. This is during his first year as President of SIU.

Special Collections Research Center, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Southern Illinois University President Delyte W. Morris at his desk in the inner office of the President's Office when it was located in Shryock Auditorium. This is during his first year as President of SIU.

By Rana Schenke, News Editor

Delyte W. Morris was seen as an innovator, a scholar and was SIU’s longest-serving president – taking the helm of the university for 22 years.

During his time at SIU, Morris oversaw the growth of the university, the addition of new departments and programs of study and the creation of the Edwardsville campus, according to the university website.

“He had a way of knowing everybody on campus, and the second time that he met you he not only knew who you were, he knew what you were doing or at least what you were supposed to be doing,” Robert “Rip” Stokes, former university photographer, said in a 1983 interview.

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Morris understood northern Illinois and southern Illinois were different areas with different needs.

In 1948 when Morris was elected, SIU was the only university in the southern Illinois region and was primarily attended by students from the area, many of whom would have been unable to afford to go to school anywhere else.

Morris said the university would need to expand and develop its offerings to cater to the increasing demand for higher education in the southern Illinois region.

“I believe it is possible to build here an institution which will serve the needs of the people,” Morris said in his inaugural address, “providing at once a seat of learning and research and an agency for community service.”

Morris said the school needed to be planned in a way to give the general advantages of a state university while also filling more specific needs.

“[SIU will] fill the gap of special needs usually provided in other communities by liberal arts colleges, colleges with self-help programs, denominational colleges and technological and vocational institutes,” Morris said.

At the time, the university had expanded its offerings to include liberal arts and vocational programs, but it was still primarily a teacher’s college.

Morris understood training teachers was an important aspect of the university, but he also knew area residents wanted more.

In his inaugural speech, Morris listed some of the instructional and research programs he hoped to add to SIU, including forestry, wildlife studies, flood control, horticulture and geography.

Under his leadership, the university experienced incredible growth, with new programs, new buildings and even a new campus — the Edwardsville campus.

Many people view Morris’ years at SIU as the school’s “glory days.”

“[Morris] was the right man at the right time for the right job,” Stokes said. “At that time, he knew the problem and he knew how to go about the solution.”

Morris not only knew what to do to improve the university, he knew how to convince people of his ideas.

“He was an excellent public speaker,” James Neckers, former chairman of SIU’s chemistry department, said in a 1980 interview. “He had a very pleasing personality; he was able to pick out a part of his program that he wanted to promote and go out and sell it to the public.”

In addition to improving the university itself, Morris also helped boost its public image.

“I think he generated a strong allegiance to the college, the university, and the campus throughout southern Illinois that it may not have had before,” Neckers said.

Morris retired from SIU in 1970. His influence can still be felt today in the many buildings and programs he helped establish on campus.

Interviews quoted in this article come from the Remembering Delyte W. Morris Special Collection and were originally conducted by Betty Lou Mitchell for her book “Delyte Morris of SIU”. Interview quotes used with the permission of the SIUC Morris Library Special Collections Research Center.

Delyte Morris’ complete inaugural speech can be found in “The Inauguration of Delyte Wesley Morris,” edited by Robert D. Faner.

News editor Rana Schenke can be reached at rschenke@dailyegyptian.com.

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