Twenty-five years after joining the Butler University faculty as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kathryn Morris will be leaving Butler at the end of May to take on a new role as President of St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, on July 1.
As the University’s head of Academic Affairs, Morris has managed more than 65 undergraduate and 15 graduate programs, overseeing Butler’s 380 faculty and 200 academic staff. She joined the Butler faculty in 1996 and served as Chair of the Department of Psychology from 2007–2011. In 2012, shortly after Butler President Jim Danko’s arrival, Morris was promoted to Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, a role that became permanent in 2013.
Danko says he was confident in naming Morris to the role despite a lack of prior administrative experience as a dean or associate provost because of leadership qualities he observed in her during his initial days at Butler.
“Kate demonstrated a number of positive attributes that immediately resonated with me, including academic experience and insights, that counter-balanced my own,” Danko says. “She struck me as someone who was thoughtful, measured in approach, and respected by her colleagues. Over the years, Kate’s leadership abilities have flourished, and there’s no doubt she’ll be an excellent president.”
Though she was surprised at the time to be offered the Provost position, Morris was eager to take on the new challenge and felt encouraged after talking to her father, who himself had served as a Professor of Psychology and Provost at Denison University. Morris says she has deeply enjoyed her work as Provost for the past nine years, and she feels especially proud that her daughter chose to attend Butler.
“I think the most meaningful thing to me is that one of my children chose Butler for their college experience,” Morris says. “When your own child makes that choice and decides this is the place they want to be their collegiate home after you and your spouse have spent so much of your career there and have cared so deeply about the place and the people at that place, that’s a really nice validation of all the work that has been done on behalf of the University across time.”
Morris says she is also proud of the work she has done alongside President Danko and other University leaders through the Butler 2020 and Butler Beyond strategic plans.
“There are a lot of ways in which Butler is different for the better today in terms of the physical footprint, the number of academic programs, and our increased emphasis on high-impact practices for students,” Morris says. “I’d say there’s an awful lot we’ve accomplished through those strategic plans, and it has been very gratifying to be part of that.”
Though Morris has been involved in leading many of Butler’s broad, campus-wide efforts over the past decade, her contributions have also been felt deeply on a personal level by her colleagues and students.
Morris was an Assistant Professor in Psychology in her first year teaching at Butler in the fall of 1996 when Jessica Lakin ʼ98 enrolled in her social psychology course. The course exposed Lakin to an aspect of psychology that sparked her interest, and Morris soon became a mentor, serving as the faculty advisor for Lakin’s senior honors thesis and overseeing her undergraduate research. Lakin recalls dropping off a draft of her thesis for Morris to review, and having it returned covered in edits, notes, and feedback.
“I know it was that kind of feedback, and the fact that someone cared enough to give me that kind of feedback, that made me a very strong writer,” Lakin says. “This is what Kate does for her students, and I take that away as one very concrete example of the way she invested in my life and in the lives of so many others. I know how much time that takes, and I know I wasn’t the only one she was supporting in this way. The payoff from that kind of time and attention on a generation of students is hard to calculate.”
Lakin went on to follow in Morris’s career footsteps, earning a PhD in social psychology from Ohio State University in 2003 and joining the faculty at Drew University later that year. In July 2020, Lakin was named Provost at Drew. At every step of the way, Morris has been available to offer guidance and support.
“She has mentored me through every transition in my professional life,” Lakin says. “What I try to emulate about Kate is the calmness and thoughtfulness with which she approaches problems or challenging issues. The core of that is a respect for other people. She is able to navigate difficult situations and complexities with integrity and a clear commitment to doing what she believes is right. I have benefited greatly from her support and value our friendship.”
Anne Wilson, Professor of Chemistry, was a new faculty member alongside Morris in the fall of 1996, and the two have navigated their Butler careers as colleagues and friends for 25 years. Wilson agrees it is Morris’s ability to listen to diverse perspectives and calmly assess difficult situations that allowed her to transition successfully from being a member of the faculty to being an administrator.
Just prior to Danko’s arrival and Morris’s promotion to Interim Provost, Butler had undergone structural changes, including adding the College of Communication in 2010. Wilson says those transitions came with growing pains, and Morris’s leadership was central to Butler’s ability to successfully navigate that season of growth and change.
“She has a warmth and kindness that is refreshing,” Wilson says. “She’s a calming force. She brought back the voice of the faculty, and through her role being pluralistic and inclusive, she was able to establish trust with the administration. She worked really hard to bring us all together into a united vision of what Butler is and what Butler can be.”
Danko agrees that Morris’s steady leadership has been central to Butler’s success in recent years.
“The stability she has brought to the Provost’s Office has been remarkably advantageous, and certainly instrumental to Butler’s success,” Danko says. “She has a high degree of integrity, which has earned a great deal of respect across the University and allowed us to collaborate between the academic side and the University administration in a very effective way. For me to have an academic partner and a co-leader in the Provost’s Office for almost 10 years has been extremely beneficial.”
Morris also noted her positive working relationship with Danko as a highlight of her years at Butler.
“I am particularly grateful to Jim Danko because he saw in me something that I didn’t know was there by plucking me out of the faculty and asking me to be his partner in the Provost’s Office,” Morris says. “I have learned a tremendous amount from watching him, working beside him, and having him as a mentor.”
Morris says she is excited about the next chapter in her career, but she will miss working alongside her Butler colleagues, especially those with whom she has served on the President’s Cabinet and the Provost Advisory Council.
“Those are the people I’ve worked with the most closely who have really made working together a fun environment despite the challenges we have faced,” Morris says. “There is so much respect and such a strong sense of community in those groups. I also feel especially grateful to the faculty and staff in the Department of Psychology, which always was and will be my academic home at Butler.”
Morris is wrapping up her final weeks at Butler and transitioning her responsibilities to Brooke Barnett, who previously served as Dean of the College of Communication and was recently named to the role of Interim Provost. As she looks to the future, Morris is excited to join an institution that is thinking creatively about how to address the challenges facing higher education and liberal arts education in particular.
“I was impressed by St. Lawrence as an institution that is future-thinking and action-oriented, and approaching things from an innovative perspective,” Morris says. “I think those things are really important for the longer-term success of higher ed institutions at this juncture in time when it’s pretty challenging.”
Lakin believes Morris has all the right qualities for a university president leading in today’s environment.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that becoming a university president is her next step, and she is exactly the type of person we need in leadership positions in higher education right now,” Lakin says. “Her thoughtfulness, her dedication, and her approach to this work is exactly what institutions need in their leaders today. I think she’s going to be a fabulous president.”