Case Western Reserve University Presidents

Robert Morse: 1967-1970

Robert Morse

Robert Morse, Case Western Reserve University's first president, died January 19, 2001 in Falmouth, Massachusetts. He was 79.

He also was a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, assistant secretary of the navy, and a dean at Brown University. A physicist, President Morse specialized in superconductivity and underwater acoustics.

Robert Morse became president of Case at its federation July 1, 1967, and served until he started a leave of absence in October 1970. He had come to Cleveland in 1966, as president of Case Institute of Technology.

Overseeing the federation of CIT and Western Reserve University was a complex task. It involved combining duplicate departments in areas such as chemistry and physics, eliminating administrative overlap, and organizing the entire faculty of four colleges and eight professional schools into a single University faculty.

Among challenges he encountered were establishing a common policy for institutional functions such as compensation, and unifying extracurricular groups such as the student newspapers and football teams.

"Case Western Reserve University has a greater capacity for constructive and collective change than any other university in the country," President Morse wrote about the federation. "Considering federation and all that it has meant, we at Case Western Reserve University now have a greater chance than any other university to create new forms in education, to reshape, to adapt the old, to adopt the new, to reform, to develop a new kind of university."

During his term as Case's president, he found himself in the midst of student demonstrations in a city torn by racial strife. He took pride in the fact that he never had to call the police to quell a campus disruption. He and his administrators talked to the students instead.

He also tried to help heal the racial division in Cleveland by serving as an honorary campaign chairman for Carl Stokes, who, in 1967, was elected the first African-American mayor of a major American city. In addition, President Morse was the first university president in Ohio to speak out against the National Guard's attack on students at Kent State University in May 1970, calling it "an act of assassination against American youth."

After reaching an impasse with Case's Board of Trustees, he left the University in 1971 to become director of research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In 1973, he became associate director, senior scientist, and dean of graduate studies. In 1979, he became director of Woods Hole's Marine Policy Center. He retired from the oceanographic institution in 1983.

President Morse had extensive experience in both education and research. He was on the Brown University faculty from 1946 to 1966, chaired its physics department from 1960 to 1962, and was dean of the college from 1962 to 1964.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Robert Morse, who had served as a naval officer from 1943 to 1946, as assistant secretary for the navy for research and development. In that position, which he held until 1966, he was responsible for a budget of nearly $2 billion.

As a member of the National Academy of Sciences' Project Nobska in 1956, he was instrumental in the creation of the Polaris missile submarines.

President Morse was widely known for his application of ultrasonic techniques to study the behavior of electrons in metals, in particular the phenomenon of superconductivity.

He received his BS from Bowdoin College in 1943, his ScM from Brown University in 1947, and his PhD from Brown in 1949. In 1966, he received an honorary doctor of science degree from Bowdoin.

President Morse is survived by his sons, Robert W. Morse Jr., of Mill Valley, California, and James P. Morse, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio; daughter Pamela Morse Moschetti, of North Falmouth, Massachusetts; and five grandchildren. His wife, Alice C. Morse, preceded him in death.

Reprinted from Case Magazine, Winter 2001.

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