Milton Moreland named Centre College’s next president
By MICHAEL STRYSICK
Milton C. Moreland, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Rhodes College, has been selected to serve as the 21st president of Centre College. A respected scholar of religion and an accomplished archaeologist, Moreland will begin his term on July 1, 2020.
He will succeed John A. Roush, whose 22-year presidency is notable for its breadth of institutional transformation at a time of significant change in American higher education.
“I have long followed Centre’s remarkable trajectory and its well-deserved status as one of the nation’s best liberal arts colleges,” Moreland said.
“It will be a significant privilege to serve in this leadership role,” he added, “and I look forward to working with the entire campus community to continue the College’s focus on fostering a diverse and inclusive learning community that prepares young people for citizenship and leadership in an increasingly complex and challenging world.”
Moreland emerged as the unanimous choice of the 18-member search committee comprised of trustees, faculty, staff and a student representative, including many Centre alumni, after an extensive national search.
“Centre was fortunate to have a very deep and impressive candidate pool for this exciting leadership opportunity,” according to Mark E. Nunnelly ’80, who chairs the Centre College Board of Trustees and oversaw the presidential search.
Nunnelly emphasized that the exhaustive process attracted a diverse representation of candidates from all walks of life.
“The qualifications of those interested in leading Centre into its third century of service,” he added, “is testament to the important place Centre has assumed in American higher education ever since its founding in 1819.”
A native of Boise, Idaho, Moreland earned his undergraduate degree in history with honors from the University of Memphis, where his mentor, Dr. Marcus Orr, introduced him to the joy of studying ancient texts, languages and artifacts. Moreland wrote his honors thesis on the Nag Hammadi Library, a set of early Christian texts discovered in Egypt in 1945. He continued his study of archaeology, ancient history and religion at the Claremont Graduate University in California, where he earned his MA and Ph.D. degrees.
His scholarly work appears in leading journals and focuses on the New Testament and early Christianity. Moreland has also edited several books, including Between Text and Artifact: Integrating Archaeology into Biblical Studies Teaching.
Since 2014, Moreland has served as the chief academic officer at Rhodes, a private liberal arts college in Memphis that, like Centre, is consistently ranked among the best in the nation. He first joined the Rhodes campus community in 2003 as an assistant professor of religious studies and was promoted to associate and full professor, serving as the R.A. Webb Professor of Religious Studies.
During that time, Moreland directed the Rhodes Institute of Regional Studies; was the founding director of the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center; and chaired the program in archaeology. Outside of the classroom, his field work with students has involved travel to sites in Jordan, Turkey, Greece and Germany, including collaboration with the Duke University Field School in Galilee, Israel. Moreland was also on the senior staff of the Sepphoris Regional Archaeological Project in Galilee for over 20 years.
After arriving at Rhodes, Moreland also founded and chaired an interdisciplinary program in archaeology and began an archaeological field school in west Tennessee. He directed the excavation of sites connected to 19th-century enslavement at the Ames Plantation and concurrently shifted his scholarship to encompass studies of American slavery, racism, and systemic and institutionalized discrimination.
Moreland will begin his presidency at Centre during a time of unparalleled institutional strength.
Besides elevating its national profile, Roush’s legacy will be marked by success in achieving his vision of Centre as a place of “high achievement and high opportunity,” as well as transforming campus facilities.
Under Roush’s leadership, Centre expanded its enrollment by nearly 50 percent, nearly tripled its endowment (thanks to two successful capital campaigns) and strengthened its academic profile, all while increasing the diversity of the student body, including growth of its underrepresented, first-generation and international populations.
He and First Lady Susie Roush are beloved by the Centre community, with approximately half of living alumni having studied and graduated during their long and enduring tenure.
Search committee members were very enthusiastic about Moreland’s selection.
Life Trustee J. David Grissom ’60, who chaired Centre’s Board of Trustees for more than 20 years, was focused on finding a candidate whose strong academic background was complemented by a visionary outlook also suited to addressing the anticipated challenging environment for student recruitment.
“Milton sees the current and near future not as a series of what he called ‘headwinds’ to hold us back,” observed Grissom, “but as opportunities to move us forward. I am confident he has all the skills necessary to accomplish this.”
Board Secretary Crit Luallen ’74 agreed.
“Milton Moreland is the right person at the right time to lead Centre College,” she said. “He is deeply rooted in the liberal arts tradition, yet he is realistic about the challenges facing institutions like Centre and brings creative, visionary ideas that will help Centre adapt to a changing world while protecting all that is best about our past.”
These talents come naturally to Moreland, according to Trustee Benjamin Beaton ’03, and for good reason.
“Like so many Centre alumni,” observed Beaton, “it was clear that Milton had a transformational intellectual experience as an undergraduate, which drives his love of learning to this day.”
Beaton described Moreland as “equal parts teacher and leader—a big thinker whose vision for the liberal arts in America flows from the magic that happens in and outside of the classroom.”
Indeed, during his 27-year teaching career, Moreland has been committed to the teacher-scholar model that is one of Centre’s central hallmarks.
This classroom experience impressed search committee member John Wilson, a longtime Centre mathematics professor who currently serves as faculty president.
“I am most encouraged by the fact that Dr. Moreland has spent almost his entire career in teaching and college administrative positions at a school much like Centre,” said Wilson. “He understands the challenges and the advantages offered in the highly residential liberal arts setting.”
Wilson is confident that his colleagues will be pleased that the new president is a true academic who knows firsthand what it means to be a faculty member. “He will be a strong leader of the faculty, able to listen to concerns and present solutions,” concluded Wilson.
An important part of that strength, observed Andrea Abrams, an associate professor of anthropology who also serves as Centre’s chief diversity officer, is Moreland’s demonstrated commitment to equity and inclusion.
“Dr. Moreland’s experience at Rhodes mirrors the journey we have been on,” she said. “As such, his success in increasing diversity among their faculty and creating inclusive dialogue around these topics on their campus will be immensely helpful to us here at Centre.”
Abrams added that she believes Moreland’s “warmth, approachability and humor will ease the transition to a new era of leadership.”
Moreland also impressed Henry Snyder, a Centre senior who represented his classmates on the search committee in his role as student body president. He called Moreland “a strategic thinker, an inclusive leader and exceptional communicator.”
“Throughout the search process,” said Snyder of Moreland, “it became clear that he has a wealth of experience working with and supporting students of all backgrounds in and out of the classroom.”
Snyder added that Moreland “demonstrated a keen awareness of student priorities by addressing matters such as the importance of diversity in our community and the continued need for innovation in resources supporting student health and wellbeing.”
A recent $900,000 grant Moreland helped secure from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for instance, supports the type of awareness to which Snyder alluded. Titled “Building a Culture of Health Equity, Human Flourishing, and Well-Being through the Public Humanities,” it is one of four Mellon grants totaling $2.35 million that Moreland has been involved in securing to support research, scholarship and innovation.
Additional grants also support the continuing work being accomplished by the Memphis Center, which Moreland has helped flourish by working with a team to secure support totaling $7.5 million from local and national foundations, particularly an endowment gift from Lynne and Henry Turley, for whom the center is now named.
In fact, Moreland’s shift to administrative work began with his work as founding director of the Memphis Center, whose central mission is to connect Rhodes to its regional community, helping constituents better understand the relevance of a broad liberal arts education in the 21st century.
The interdisciplinary center provides support annually for engaged learning through courses, projects, communities of practice, workshops and events for approximately 300 students and 25 faculty.
It illustrates Moreland’s fundamental belief in the importance of what he calls a “purpose-driven” education.
“One of my key goals as president of Centre College,” emphasized Moreland, “is to assure that our graduates go out into the world with a sense of purpose and meaning, combined with the needed confidence to positively impact their communities and the world.”
Equally, he said, “Centre graduates should be prepared to maneuver through a complicated world and an unknown future, grounded through an education that prepares them for what we don’t know is even coming.”
Moreland will be joined by his wife, Dina, a native of Chesterfield, Indiana, and a former national champion racquetball player who competed on the USA team. She attended the University of Memphis, completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in gerontology and educational studies, and began her career as a pharmaceutical salesperson in Southern California, while enjoying touring as a professional racquetball player in the 1990’s. Since 2003, she has been an elementary school teacher in Memphis.
The Morelands have two grown children. Marcus, a 2016 graduate of Rhodes College, works as a manager for a logistics company in Memphis, and Micah is graduating this spring with a major in international studies and minor in Asian studies from Rhodes. Both of their sons were student-athletes, Marcus in baseball and Micah in football.
When they take residence in Craik House, the longtime residence of Centre presidents and their families, Milton and Dina will be accompanied by a rescue dog named Blue.
The Centre community will have its first opportunity to meet President-elect Moreland and his family at an All-Campus Assembly in Newlin Hall at the Norton Center for the Arts on Thursday, February 6 at 7 p.m., which will be followed by a public reception.
Michael Strysick is the chief communications officer for Centre College.
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