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Dawn of a New Day: How Morningside University Escaped From the Brink of Closure Under the Leadership of John C. Reynders

Erin M Edlund, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of this qualitative research study was to explore the story of how John C. Reynders, 12th president of Morningside University, was able to bring the university back from the brink of closure when he took office in 1999, as well as the leadership challenges, victories, and life events that helped shape his 23-year tenure.Using the methodology of narrative inquiry, the study offers a biographical sketch of Reynders’ early life and career, as well as the story of his tenure as president of Morningside. The retelling of this story offers leadership insight and a valuable look into a period that was pivotal to the survival of Morningside University that may help other small private colleges or universities facing even the most dire of circumstances prevail. Institutions like Morningside have always had a precarious existence, and recent history has only intensified the financial and enrollment pressures that many continue to face. The qualitative research results generate a recounting of the story with rich descriptive details that contribute to the knowledge of higher education leadership, deepen the understanding of the small private college and university environment, and provide a first-hand look at the steps Morningside University took to go from the brink of closure to experiencing record-setting enrollment and fundraising efforts.Using the narrative collected, five emergent themes were identified as being central to the efforts. These included a culture of connectedness; a shared vision of transformation; transparent, consistent communication (verbal and nonverbal); servant leadership; and authentic, mission-drive passion. The findings also affirm literature that underscores the importance of the abilities of small private college or university presidents related to relationship-building and fundraising; the value in having a leader who understands the unique needs of small private colleges and universities; and the documented factors that often lead to the closure of small private colleges and universities if not addressed.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Higher Education Administration|Educational administration

Recommended Citation

Edlund, Erin M, "Dawn of a New Day: How Morningside University Escaped From the Brink of Closure Under the Leadership of John C. Reynders" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI30486120.