Travis Morris: Still Waters Run Deep
William “Travis” Morris is an intent listener. And when he does speak, his words are meaningful and radiant of a discreet force. To know the criminal justice professor is to witness a deep, glassine intensity that, much like the waters of a calm lake, conveys strength and buoys the efforts of others.
Travis joined the Norwich faculty in 2011 to fill the role of terrorism expert in the Department of Justice Studies and Sociology. His scholarship, teaching, and service quickly earned him a reputation as one of the university’s hardest-working professors. Within two years, he was awarded the prestigious Board of Fellows Faculty Development Prize for his research into neo-Nazi and violent jihadi propaganda.
For a professor whose primary subject matter is often unpleasant and difficult, he projects an infectious tranquility. “He has the innate ability to establish a standard of mutual respect and candor that puts a room at ease,” says Lindsay Cahill Lord, a Norwich projects production manager who collaborates with Travis on the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium. “That’s his leadership style: it’s so seamless that it’s nearly invisible.”
A ranger-qualified, former U.S. Army Infantry captain who served with the 10th Mountain Division, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment (4-31) in Bosnia and Kuwait, Travis recalls a childhood spent enthralled by the Israeli fighter pilots who visited his parents; his father, a retired Air Force colonel, taught at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. Later, while working the graveyard shift as a police officer in Lexington, Ky., Travis passed the time between calls listening to audio recordings on the history of the Middle East in his police cruiser. Increasingly drawn to academia, he shifted his trajectory and went on to complete a PhD in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha after living in Israel for two years.
Since his arrival on the Hill, he has been unstoppable.
Most recently he played a pioneering role, along with College of Liberal Arts Dean Andrea Talentino, in launching the Norwich University Peace and War Center, a campus institute with global ambitions. In its second year, the center—deliberately named to emphasize the desired peaceful outcome of military intervention—aims to help students, researchers, and practitioners examine the dimensions of conflict and stability through an interdisciplinary lens.
“Similar centers tend to focus either on kinetic warfare, or on peace operations, but not both,” Travis says. “We want to emphasize the intersections of these events, with the goal of preparing present and future leaders to fully understand the lasting impacts of specific political and military decisions.”
The center is well on its way to fulfilling this vision—creating opportunities for students to meet and collaborate with high-level diplomats, top foreign military officials, and global experts on strategy. As part of an inaugural Field Study in Peace and Conflict, Travis and Canadian Fulbright Scholar David Last traveled to Israel and Palestine with six Norwich cadets, a Canadian Royal Military College cadet, and a Canadian NATO intern, to expose them to an immersive survey of the political, economic, social, and military roots of the conflict there. And last February, he tapped four cadets to help lead a NATO-sponsored conference on counterterrorism in Macedonia. Travis, who directed the conference, recalls how impressed the high-level dignitaries were with the Norwich undergraduates.
“You can’t teach this in the classroom,” Travis says. “And these students went abroad not to study, but to do a job. They were perceived as professionals, and in that sense it was truly sink or swim for them.” * – Jane Dunbar
* See the fall 2016 Record, page 46 in the Annual Report, for Kendall Manning ’16’s account of the NATO summit from the cadet perspective.