At the February 2019 meeting of Roanoke College’s Board of Trustees, an election was held for the new board chair to succeed Morris M. Cregger ‘64. Elected to the position was Malon W. Courts ’92.
Courts, who is believed to be the youngest person to serve as Board of Trustees chair in the College’s 177-year history, will begin his term as Roanoke’s 18th board chair at the October 2019 board meeting, as Morris Cregger concludes his second term as chair.
A board member since 2002, Courts is president and chief executive officer of Atlantic Investment Company in Atlanta, Georgia. He also serves as partner and chief compliance officer of Capstone Global Investments, managing partner of Colony Capital Management, and manager of Five Stand Capital.
“To be nominated and considered as the next board chair of Roanoke College is an incredible honor and quite humbling, as I reflect on the significant talent and dedication of the women and men who I have come to know and respect on our board,” Courts, of Atlanta, wrote in a letter to the board earlier this year. “If you were to peer inside my inner core, you would find a deep…sense of respect and moral obligation toward this institution we call Roanoke College.”
Roanoke College magazine asked the outgoing and incoming board chairs to reflect on their years of board leadership and membership, and peer into the future to offer thoughts of what lies ahead for the institution.
RC: What have been the College’s greatest accomplishments over the past decade?
Morris Cregger: The last decade would be reflective of a period featuring the “Great Recession,” which created tremendous pressure on our financial and banking systems, failure of many notable businesses, and a stock market that retreated in value at a pace not viewed since the Depression years. Higher education was not immune to the effects of this recession. Colleges scrambled to meet their required enrollment numbers, and tuition costs were lowered through resets and discounting far below normal discount rates. Roanoke felt the same pressure of other colleges and universities but still continued to grow its physical facilities with the addition of new dorms and the Cregger Center, now the largest building on campus. In addition, the capital campaign raised $204 million, representing the most successful in our history. The College also was able to get through these very difficult times and maintain a balanced budget.
Malon Courts: Over the last decade, the College’s most significant accomplishments have been the many improvements to the physical campus, fine-tuning our curriculum, implementing the Roanoke Difference and completing—and surpassing—a $200 million campaign. The results of these efforts are evident with record numbers of applications, record number of Fulbright scholars and a record number of Roanoke graduates accepted into medical schools.
RC: What are the greatest challenges and/or threats facing the College in the next year, the next five years, the next decade?
Courts: The most significant challenge facing the College in the coming years is the changing business model of higher education. The cost of a college degree has far outpaced household incomes and as a result, all colleges and universities—from schools smaller than Roanoke College to large state universities—must adapt to the new economic constraints of providing high-quality education and experience for students. The number of high school graduates is expected to drop by 15% in 2026 due to lower birthrates during the Great Recession of the late 2000s. In today’s competitive higher-education landscape, Roanoke College must prepare now by providing a relevant and cost-effective education that is differentiated by our unique culture and scale that guarantees each student a very personal experience that cannot be replicated at large universities. I hate when I hear people describe Roanoke College as small, like it is something we need to apologize for. Small is a strength. You cannot offer, at large institutions, the quality and personal experience that Roanoke does in an undergraduate environment. I want to celebrate our scale and not think about it as problem.
RC: How do you view the role of the Board of Trustees – beyond supervising the president, setting the College’s direction, and managing the College’s fiduciary health?
Cregger: The role of the board changes with time to meet what is required to support our mission and goals. Beyond the obvious, as outlined in the question, I see the board as a protector of the reputation of the College. In addition, we have a responsibility to promote the College in a positive way in regards to recruitment and in our local communities. We should be a sounding board for our president and his staff, but we should not micromanage the process. We are the anchor of the ship, and we have the responsibility to assure we steer through the storms.
Courts: Beyond the technical description of the Board of Trustees’ responsibilities, the board should be the loudest and most audacious cheerleaders for the institution. Roanoke College is blessed with talented and dedicated women and men I have come to know, learn from and respect. Each one of these board members gives unselfishly of their time, talent and treasure to the College. The Roanoke College Board of Trustees is a working board and not a mechanism for a rubber stamp. Each member of our board shares a love for the College and sees the quality education Roanoke delivers that guarantees students a personal experience and meaningful relationship with faculty and staff.
RC: How do you view the role of board chair?
Cregger: The board chair should bleed Maroon and have the utmost respect and passion for the College. The board chair should support and make decisions that ensure the integrity and the best interest of the school. The chair should work closely with the president but also should hold him accountable to the standards of his position while always having his back. Lastly, the chair should be a facilitator between all segments of the College but especially between the board and the president.
“When I think about all that Morris has accomplished in life...there is one accomplishment that stands out: his partnership with his wife, Sheila. Morris and Sheila are equally deserving of our appreciation for their enormous contribution and generosity to Roanoke College.”
Malon W. Courts '92, incoming chair, Roanoke College Board of Trustees
RC: As outgoing board chair, what would you like to pass on to your successor? What, that the board set in motion during your tenure as board chair, would you like to see him build on? What new and different would you like to see him explore?
Cregger: Our board at Roanoke is a very close-knit group with passion and appreciation for our experiences at the school. Our new board chair is at the top of the list in regard to his love for Roanoke. I am confident that the agendas we started during my tenure, which was a collective effort of the board, will be continued and achieved. We cannot predict the future, but if I had one piece of advice for our chair and board, it would be to continue our search for new revenue sources and become more aggressive with our investment opportunities.
RC: As incoming board chair, what advice/direction are you seeking from your predecessor? What do you want to build on? What new and different would you like to explore?
Courts: Morris envisioned and led the design, construction and completion of the largest building on campus, the Cregger Center, as well as the successful conclusion of the most extensive capital campaign in the College's history. Those accomplishments were far-reaching and set the bar pretty high for his successor. I am seeking guidance from Morris on helping Roanoke College be the best it can be. There has been a lot of attention on who would succeed Morris Cregger as board chair. But the role of board chair is not about any one person, it is about the thousands of students who have entrusted us with helping them achieve their life goals. Students and families have entrusted us with their education. That is where I am focused and seeking advice and input. There is no organic “new direction” that I want to lead the College; I want to continue the strong, steady, progressive course that Morris has established. Roanoke College is moving definitively in the right direction. The Roanoke Difference, for example, significantly improves what Roanoke College already does quite well. We need to continue to raise the endowment by becoming less dependent on tuition, and market Roanoke College as the unique institution of higher education it has become.
RC: How does it feel to assume the position of Board chair of your alma mater?
Courts: Right now, it is as energizing as it is frightening. You know in life there are several things you don’t want to mess up: your family relationships, your marriage, your kids, and being the chair of your alma mater’s Board of Trustees!
RC: The student experience today at Roanoke College is very different from when you were students at Roanoke. Where and how can the College enhance that experience?
Cregger: I have often stated that I received an excellent academic curriculum during my four years at Roanoke as a student. More importantly, the maturing process in learning the discipline required for success, along with the encouragement and advice from so many of my professors, gave me a confidence that has lasted a lifetime—and these lessons were outside of the classroom. I am excited with our focus to continue with our “Whole Person Experience “curriculum, as it will surely separate the Roanoke College experience from many of our sister schools. This will require that the entire Roanoke College community adopt this as a culture and for our board to continue to support this initiative and to assure that funding is available.
Courts: Liberal arts will always be at the center of the Roanoke College experience, but we must continue to add fields of study that are relevant and applicable to the changing world. Our newest major, Actuarial Science, is a great example of an essential new discipline of study that has a foundation of core liberal arts. We have seen and will continue to see massive innovation and disruption in every industry and business process; this includes the business of higher education. It is difficult to know or predict how rapid technological innovations such as automation and artificial intelligence will ultimately impact higher education, but as an institution, we must be willing to lean into disruptive innovation and be ready to pivot. Traditionally, higher education has been very slow and resistant to change. I consider this a significant opportunity and, at the same time, a significant challenge.
RC: What distinguishes Roanoke from other institutions of higher learning?
Courts: Roanoke College is distinguished from other institutions by its culture and appropriate size. Culture matters, but it is challenging to describe to an individual who has never experienced it first-hand. Our size permits each student to have a very personal experience and relationship with faculty, staff and fellow students. Many institutions of significantly larger size cannot deliver the same profoundly personal experience that Roanoke College can—and does. The entire institution has been wired that way since 1842, making it very difficult for other institutions to replicate. Our culture fits perfectly with our curriculum. Simply put, it’s The Roanoke Difference. Our students are led through a very deliberate process to understand who they are, how they fit into society, and what contribution they want to make to their future employer and the world at large. Part of our curriculum that I am very proud of is the intense, deliberate and repetitive process of self-reflection—who we are and how we want to contribute.
RC: After serving two terms as Board chair what are you most proud of?
Cregger: The first business when I became chair was to establish a term limit of eight years for the board chair. After serving in this position for eight years, I believe this is a guideline for future board chairs to adhere to. I have stated throughout my career as chair that I am a firm believer that great things are achieved by the efforts of many working together toward common goals. I must confess my chest swells up every time I visit the Cregger Center but I am also humbled by the magnitude of the accomplishment that carries my name. This dream could never have been accomplished without the overall support of our board’s vision and generosity, or without a president who possesses the knowledge and understanding of the impact the Center has had on both the College and the community. And of course, a special thanks to all the many people who gave of their time and treasure, far beyond expectations, to fund this magnificent structure.
RC: What do you consider Morris Cregger’s greatest accomplishment?
Courts: That is an incredibly difficult question to answer, similar to declaring the single best flavor of ice cream! When I think about all that Morris has accomplished in life—from his basketball career at Roanoke College, to his family, his business and contributions to the College—there is one accomplishment that stands out: his partnership with his wife, Sheila. I have little doubt that behind much of Morris’s achievements stands Sheila Cregger, who is his partner in life, marriage and business. Morris and Sheila are equally deserving of our appreciation for their enormous contribution and generosity to Roanoke College.