Morris Grants Provide Boost for Faculty Researchers
In 2011, longtime Saint Joseph’s University benefactor Mike Morris ’56 wanted to make a gift to his alma mater that would serve as a change agent.
Morris has always been keen on helping Saint Joseph’s University in fulfilling its academic mission through his philanthropy. He wanted this gift to be used differently from his previous philanthropic contributions.
“I was looking for something to do that didn’t involve stones and bricks,” said the former chairman of the SJU Board of Trustees. “I was thinking of a scholarship or internship.”
Morris’ philanthropy at Saint Joseph’s has enriched the campus environment in many ways. He’s supported the improvement of University infrastructure, as well, naming Morris Quad, an off-campus apartment complex for upperclassmen located south of campus. He proposed the idea and subsequently made a leadership gift to name the Cardinal John P. Foley Campus Center after the 1957 Saint Joseph’s graduate who was the first SJU alumnus to be named a Cardinal in the Catholic Church.
Morris honored both of the presidents whose tenures overlapped with his serving as board chair through philanthropy. He was the lead donor in establishing the Donald I. MacLean, S.J. Chair, which is named in honor of the University’s 24th president, and held by Jesuits who are accomplished teachers and scholars in the arts and sciences. Morris also named Rashford Hall within Mandeville Hall in honor of Nicholas S. Rashford, S.J., SJU’s 25th president.
Rashford, with whom Morris teaches an EMBA class, suggested how Morris could make more of a difference for his alma mater.
“He said to me ‘What the professors really need is some assistance in doing their work,’” Morris recalled. And with that, Morris committed the $150,000 to bring the Michael J. Morris Grants for Scholarly Research to fruition.
“Faculty research is a hallmark of academic excellence at Saint Joseph’s. In establishing the Morris Grants for Scholarly Research, my intention is to encourage and promote faculty research and publication to further strengthen the university’s academic reputation,” he said at the time.
In each of the past two years, ten tenured and tenure-track faculty members – five each from the College of Arts & Sciences and Erivan K. Haub School of Business – have received $1,200 to further the research pursuits that cut a wide swath across many disciplines. While Morris’ name is on the grant, he trusts the deans and Provost Brice Wachterhauser to make the final funding decisions.
Faculty interest in the grants has grown exponentially since the program launched. This spring, the 33 faculty members who applied for the grants represent an increase of more than 30 percent over the program’s first year applicants. Morris has been so impressed by the quality of work the grants have helped create, he has committed another $100,000 to the fund.
“It’s easy to be a benefactor, but harder to help the faculty do good work,” said Morris, the former president of Transport International Pool, Inc.
The first complement of Morris grants rolled out in March 2012. Projects included, among others, proposals to train health promoters within the Nigerian community at St. Cyprian’s Parish in West Philadelphia; study the relationship between credit default swap rates and equity market volatility; examine pre-service and practicing teachers’ beliefs about children, caregivers and teaching in high poverty communities; and investigate the relationship between sleep and the development of young children.
“I am very grateful for the funding from the Morris Grant, which has helped me to produce significant outcomes in a more expeditious manner than otherwise would have been possible,” said theology professor Gerald Beyer, Ph.D., a member of the first class of awardees who received a grant to study worker rights and socially responsible investment in the Catholic tradition.
The second complement – awarded in January – included proposals to compose a string quartet, investigate the impact of screen size on consumers’ responses to brand integration, and analyze popular music in Super Bowl commercials in the past decade.
By establishing these grants, Morris has helped many faculty members bring their projects to fruition. And by doing that Morris himself is serving as a change agent.