By Abby Weingarten
Julie Morris arrived at New College from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin in the fall of 1970 at age 18—and it was here that she would form a lifelong bond with the Southwest Florida landscape.
She has spent the past 50 years involved with the campus in multiple capacities—as well as in the field and on government boards, positively influencing local environmental policies. Next month, she retires from her current position as New College’s associate vice president for academic affairs.
“I am passionate about New College—the place, the actual campus, and the social and natural landscapes the College is embedded in,” Morris said.
And Morris has watched both the College and its surrounding areas evolve with each passing decade.
When she was a student, New College was a private institution with about 500 students, and the Environmental Studies Program did not yet officially exist. She lived in the Pei dorms and became close with her classmate, Jono Miller, who has been her partner since 1975 (they have a 32-year-old son, Corley, who is a writer in California).
“As a student, I was able to study something that made a difference in the larger community, and generations of environmental studies students have done this as well,” Morris said.
Morris wrote a thesis entitled An Ecological Study of Upper Myakka Lake (which involved the mapping of invasive aquatic plants), and graduated in 1974 with a bachelor of arts degree in biology/ecology. Post-graduation, she worked as an environmental consultant and adjunct instructor, and co-coordinated the New College Environmental Studies Program from 1981 to 2002 with Miller (when the College was still part of the University of South Florida (USF)). Morris and Miller also co-directed the program after the College became independent.
From 2003 until now, Morris has worked in the provost’s office, first as assistant to the provost and later as the assistant vice president of academic affairs. She has been in her current role since 2015.
“New College, independent of USF starting in 2003, has needed to keep on good terms with the State University System of Florida (SUS) while protecting our unique way of teaching and learning, and this work has been very meaningful to me,” Morris said.
Her local environmental work has also been extremely meaningful. She has served as a commissioner and chair of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC); a member, vice chair and chair of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council; a reviewer of Fisheries Innovation Fund Proposals for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; and a member of the Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative Board of Directors.
Morris has given multiple presentations at environmental hearings and symposiums, such as NOAA’s Fishery Science: Is Lack of Basic Science Costing Jobs? (a written and oral testimony presented to the United States House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs), and Can Principles Defuse Allocation Fights Between Commercial and Recreational Fishermen? (presented at the Fisheries Leadership and Sustainability Forum in California).
“For the Gulf of Mexico, I was able to work on several ecosystem management initiatives and habitat areas of particular concern, and spatial planning,” Morris said. “That’s at the core of my passion: How do you convert scientific information about fish and sustainable harvest into actual harvest strategies that the fishermen will embrace and understand? And how do you make difficult management changes based on science? I think that’s all interesting work.”
Her work in the provost’s office has been varied and exciting too, as she has helped develop faculty proposals for new academic programs and shepherded those proposals through the approval process. She has supported the Academic Administrative Council by planning agendas and implementing their recommendations. And she has been a member of the New College negotiating team with the United Faculty of Florida for 17 years.
“My favorite aspects of the job are the people I work with across the campus, and the long-term relationships that we have built that make it possible to find good solutions to problems,” Morris said. “I also love the variety of my work—never boring. I draw energy, support and passion from the people I work with every week.”
Being part of the New College community has always been significant for Morris. The campus is steeped in memories from her own college days, and she often reflects on what it was like in the early 1970s.
“It was a time of protest against the Vietnam War and a time of women’s consciousness raising, so there was a lot of turmoil in the larger community that was reflected on campus,” Morris said. “The first Earth Day was in the spring of 1970. People were just starting to pull the science together that was pointing out that water and air pollution were big problems, and that we needed to come together as a country and world. The Clean Water Act and The Clean Air Act were adopted by Congress in the early 1970s, and The Endangered Species Act was created, so there was a real awakening in the U.S. at that time.”
That pivotal era shaped Morris as a person and an environmentalist. When she met Miller (in an environmental biology class with Professor John Morrill, Ph.D., in September 1970), the two discovered a shared passion for understanding natural and built systems, which ultimately became their life’s work.
Now that Morris is retiring, she will have more time to explore with Miller, in areas like the Myakka River watershed and the Ten Thousand Islands.
“Our main way of exploring Florida is by canoe camping. So, while I’m still fit and able to do it, I want to do more of that—and to do more birdwatching, hiking and exploring. Every time we’re out exploring, we’re also looking at how the landscape is changing,” Morris said. “We load up the canoe and paddle for four or five hours a day and set up camp (explore there, sleep and watch the stars, and see what’s happening in nature), then pack up the next day and move onto the next spot.”
Morris has always been a nature admirer, ever since she was a young girl climbing trees on a dead-end street in Wisconsin next to a river swamp.
“In Florida, the more outdoor nature experiences I have, the more deeply connected I feel to this landscape. Layering on years and years of understanding the science and social and political challenges really connects me very deeply to it,” Morris said. “Nature has always been such a big part of my identity from the time I was a child.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.