Michael C. Morris, a passionate teacher in NIU’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, died Sunday, Dec. 12, after a long battle with colorectal cancer. He was 49.
Morris, who joined the NIU faculty in 1996 as an assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, earned his bachelor’s degree from Rockford College before receiving his master’s and doctorate from the University of Iowa.
Friends and colleagues speak highly of his dedication to teaching and advising.
Professor Anne Birberick recalled Morris as “one of the super good guys” in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.
“He always went above and beyond the call of duty. Because of his passion, energy and good will, (the department) benefits today from his work over the years,” Birberick said.
“I will sorely miss him as a friend and a colleague,” Birberick added. “His sense of joie de vivre never faltered, no matter the adversity he faced. Michael touched the lives of many, and in doing so, always made them better.”
Professor Robert Walsh, who shared a small office with Morris, got to know him well.
“Michael and I came to work for the Department of Foreign Language on the same day: Aug. 15, 1996,” Walsh said.
“Michael had a way of helping people by finding a way. He knew whom to call to get things done. He was direct and kind. He worked at an orphanage in Mexico. He was fluent in French and Spanish. He had a great sense of humor. He knew people everywhere,” Walsh added. “Our office feels so empty.”
Lynne Meyer, office support specialist, calls Morris her best friend.
“I have come to know Michael personally and have worked closely with him on a daily basis for the past 14 years. He was very dedicated to his work, his family and his friends. He was always working, but I don’t believe he would live his life any other way,” Meyer said.
“Work was his passion, and he took a lot of pride in everything that he did, for the betterment of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Northern Illinois University,” Meyer said. “He was my best friend and will be truly missed and will always be in my heart.”
Morris’s research focused on the analysis of the beliefs of foreign language teachers regarding instruction and the relationship of those beliefs to their classroom practices, as well as foreign language program assessment.
His expertise was sought after as a collaborator for the fifth edition of the McGraw-Hill Spanish textbook “Pasajes” as well as having his work appear in numerous journals and periodicals. His research has been presented to language teachers both locally and abroad, having lectured in Australia and Spain.
His enthusiasm and professionalism earned Morris a 2009 nomination for the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award. Students have described Morris as “one of the most influential teachers” and a professor who makes “class meaningful.”
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, at Spring Grove Funeral Chapel, 8103 Wilmot Road in Spring Grove, Ill. Visitation will be from 1 to 3 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his honor to the American Cancer Society, the Memorial Fund of the Mount Hope UMC of McHenry or the Wesley Foundation at the University of Iowa.
by Andrew Hrubec