I was walking my well trodden paths of Southern Illinois University this week and enjoying two specific unusual occurrences for SIU and this time of the year. The first being the news that the freshman class is larger than it has been in a number of years, sixteen percent I am told, and the second that the temperatures are very cool or fall like. The natural beauty of my University has always captivated me. SIU is located in the most scenic geographical location of Illinois. During the Ice Age the glaciers halted in our area as evidenced by the beauty of the Shawnee National Forest. Also, there has been a tremendous amount of landscaping work done on Campus. This along with the addition of numerous flower and plant planters, new classic lighting, and marble seats and pillars indicating a second primary entrance to a majestic campus. The result is inviting physical beauty that is unparalleled in our state.
If you will allow me a bit of a digression let me say that I spent over thirty-two years employed at SIU. During those fruitful years I received many promotions and almost completed a bachelor’s degree. I became involved, sometimes at high levels, with the incredibly complex machinations of Campus politics. I have for many years been fascinated by the story of and subsequent success of former University President Delyte Morris. Dr. Morris came to the University in the 1940’s when SIU was called Normal or a Teacher’s College. He with extraordinary ability and capability transformed a small Teacher’s College to the internationally respected Southern Illinois University that we have today. He did this by basically having a charisma that convinced everyone from the Governor and legislatures of the state to the student and janitor of SIU into believing that they were on his team and that he was doing something special that had not been done before! Dr. Morris truly built Southern Illinois University from a locale that was populated by coal miners, factory workers, and farmers and attracted national and international talent such as R. Buckminster Fuller purely by the mystery of what he was doing in Little Egypt.
However for the last twenty or more years my University became more concerned with personalities than progress. The revolving door of Campus leaders or Chancellors, including two who were very successful, along with the recent Board of Trustee childish bickering has been a series of blows that I agonized at times as to whether or not we can recover from. We must focus as closely on the success of our students or the inner beauty of our Campus as we have of late on its’ outer beauty or physical appearance! SIU was founded on the unique proposition that a first class university education was the right of all those who were willing to work to attain it. Not just for the elite or the Ivy league but also for the coal miner, the factory worker, and the farmers’ child.