The role of the university president has changed throughout history. The office of the president of the University of Dallas has followed the same pattern. Initially, presidents served as ideological or academic figureheads whose thoughts were exemplary of the type of university they served. Today, most university presidents, like President Thomas Keefe, must serve as both marketers and fundraisers.
One example of the former is UD’s second president, Robert J. Morris, who filled the office from 1960-1962. Serving as president during a tense time of the Cold War, Morris became a figure of anti-Communist activism due to his previous employment as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Internal Security from 1951-1953 and also from 1956-1958.
The purpose of that committee was to investigate communists who were suspected of engaging in subversive unpatriotic activity. The phenomenon is now more colloquially referred to as “McCarthyism,” due to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s famous tenure as Chairman of the Subcommittee of Investigations, under the Committee of Government Operations. Although he played no direct role as a senator, McCarthy is often associated with the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Despite the overwhelming influence of McCarthy, Morris and the senate subcommittee were perhaps even more instrumental in sparking the “Red Scare” than McCarthy himself, according to Whittaker Chambers, a former Soviet spy turned prolific conservative writer.
“I would say that Bob Morris really accomplished much of what [McCarthy] is credited with,” Chambers said in a letter to conservative intellectual William F. Buckley.
After his tenure as chief counsellor, Morris ran an unsuccessful campaign for senator of his home state of New Jersey, toting his anti-communist agenda and record as an intelligence officer specializing in psychological warfare during World War II. At this point in his life, Morris considered ending his career in politics and pursuing a career in academia at a recently established Catholic university in Texas: UD.
Many members of the Board of Trustees shared his concern for the rise in Communism.
In May of 1960, shortly after he was appointed president, he was present at UD’s first graduation ceremony. One of UD’s first actions during his tenure as president was to confer honorary degrees to former Major General and Secretary of War Patrick Hurley and five-star general Douglas Macarthur (in absentia) at the first Founder’s Day Convocation.
Other additions to UD during his tenure included the first art building, the library and the SUB or student union building.
However, Morris and the Board of Trustees realized that his zeal to fight communism interfered with his ability to lead the university effectively. In a letter published in “Dallas Morning News,” he explained his need to be “completely unencumbered as we approach what I feel is a time of great crisis for the United States.”
After his decision to leave UD, Morris founded the Defenders of American Liberties, which was designed to be a conservative equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union.
His most notable case involved disgraced Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, who was charged with sedition and insurrection after leading a segregationist protest against the entry of an African American student at the University of Mississippi. Walker was later exonerated on all charges. Walker would later experience an assassination attempt that many investigators presumed was committed by Lee Harvey Oswald.
Morris retired from law and politics after five failed bids for the U.S. Senate. He lost two of those to future President George H.W. Bush.