Mike Norris, longtime Centre College director of communications, has announced plans to retire in the coming year. Norris’s retirement will be effective May 20, 2011, or earlier should a successor be named and available to begin work before that time.
“Mike Norris has served Centre with distinction for 30 years,” says Centre president John Roush. “His contributions to the College’s growth as an institution of national leadership—a place now widely recognized as one of the country’s premiere, residential undergraduate colleges—have been many and remarkable. He has been a trusted, imaginative, tenacious spokesperson for Centre with his voice and his word and his creativity. All of us will miss his friendship and wise counsel, and I will miss his gentle spirit and his deep understanding of the College’s story.”
Norris, a native of Jackson County, Ky., came to Centre in May of 1980 after serving as manager of the design and publications department of Policy Management, Inc., in Columbia, S.C..
Over his years of service at the College, he has seen dramatic changes in the communications field. “When I came to work in 1980 in the Alumni House, we had a drawing table, a T-square, a bottle of glue and an Exacto knife” he says. “There was no Internet, and the only ‘facebook’ was a photocopied pamphlet. Now everything is digital. The tools change, but one constant remains—striving for quality.”
The changes in the last 30 years at the College have been almost as sweeping. Enrollment has increased from just over 700 to more than 1,200, entering test scores have risen significantly, the campus has been virtually transformed and national recognition has skyrocketed.
“One of the most rewarding developments of the last decade,” Norris says, “is the explosion of third-party recognition of the College. It used to be occasional—now from Forbes to U.S. News toConsumers Digest to the National Survey of Student Engagement, it seems almost weekly. And Centre is near or at the top of every list. The phrase we use, ‘Centre: by any measure,’ is true across the board.”
During Norris’s tenure, the Communications Office has been recognized with numerous state and national awards for excellence. They include national Council for Advancement and Support of Education awards for student recruitment publications and annual reports, two C.A.S.E. District III Grand Awards (one for best viewbook and one for best admission series), Admission Marketing Report Gold Awards for publications and print ads, and a number of C.A.S.E. Kentucky Best of Category awards for publications.
Another hallmark of Norris’s years is the many contests or promotions the Communications Office has initiated. These include C6-HO 75 (a major exhibition at the College’s Norton Center for the Arts marking the 75th anniversary of Centre’s famed 1921 upset of No. 1 ranked Harvard in football); the “Meet Baryshnikov” contest (which garnered national media coverage for a Centre performance by dance great Mikhail Baryshnikov); The Centre 100 time capsule buried in 1999 in front of the College’s Norton Center for the Arts (to be dug up at Homecoming 2049) “Dead Fred at the Debate” (a special seating of the portrait of Chief Justice of the United States and Centre alum Fred Vinson—with a customized credential no less—at the 2000 Vice Presidential Debate); and the Centre “Cignature” contest (which persuaded hundreds of campus community members to include the College promise, “Personal education, Extraordinary success,” and other information in their automated email signatures.)
In recent years, Norris has been involved in the production of two outstanding histories of the College. Our Standard Sure, edited by Centre alum Tom Hardin, tells the Centre story in prose vignettes and stunning photographs, and Centre College: Scholars, Gentlemen, and Christians, by Van Winkle Professor of Sociology Beau Weston, traces the institution’s evolution through changing emphases on the three elements of the College’s mission referenced in the title.
Norris notes that none of the success of the Communications Office during his tenure would have been possible without the talent and expertise of a host of dedicated staff members. And he points to a number of longtime colleagues currently on the team whose ability and commitment will ensure that the office continues to perform well during this period of transition. He plans to devote much of his time after retirement to a number of long deferred creative projects.
After more than three decades of describing, defining and promoting the College, when asked to distill the essence of Centre, Norris relates an anecdote involving legendary English professor Paul Cantrell:
“One of my early projects was creating a new view book and, looking for quotes, the first person I interviewed was Cantrell. In answer to my opening question— What makes Centre special?—without missing a beat, he said, ‘There’s some sort of mix—some combination of quality and commitment that makes this place tick. If the thoughtful training of the individual human mind is going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen here. It’s believed in here.’ I’ve found that to be true over a span of 30 years and expect it’ll continue to be true as the next generation comes on to continue moving Centre forward.”
A national search will be conducted for Norris’s successor.