James Harris, DEd
- DEd, Penn State University, Higher Education Administration
- MEd, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Educational Administration
- BEd, University of Toledo, Secondary Education/Comprehensive Social Sciences
James T. Harris III, D.Ed., became the University of San Diego’s fourth president on August 3, 2015. With more than 8,000 students from 77 countries and 44 states, USD is the youngest, independent institution on the U.S. News & World Report list of top 100 universities in the United States and was recognized by Forbes magazine as one of America’s most entrepreneurial research universities. The University of San Diego is one of only 36 universities in the world designated as an Ashoka U Changemaker campus.
Dr. Harris has focused his attention during his first year at USD on five key areas: 1). Engaging the university community to gain insight and direction from listening sessions and collaborations with faculty, staff, administrators, students, trustees, alumni, local community members and friends of USD from across the globe; 2). Introducing Envisioning 2024, a strategic planning process that will capitalize on the university’s recent progress and align new strategic goals with current strengths to help shape a vision for the future as the university looks ahead to its 75th anniversary in the year 2024; 3). Launching the public phase of Leading Change: The Campaign for USD, which represents the most ambitious fundraising effort in the history of the university and builds upon the strong philanthropic momentum achieved by USD in recent years; 4) Creating task forces charged with assessing and further building upon the university’s diverse and inclusive community, expanding sustainability initiatives and further developing USD’s role as an anchor institution of scholarship, teaching, learning and service; 5) Supporting the university’s efforts to enhance the liberal arts in the Catholic intellectual tradition, by emphasizing the importance of developing within students critical thinking, advancing skills in writing and oral communications, and fostering independent thought, innovation, integrity, and engaged citizenship.
Throughout his academic career, Dr. Harris has worked closely with cross-discipline teams to spearhead new civic and community engagements, connecting academic environments with intractable issues faced by society. “USD is in a strong position to address significant societal issues, and the establishment of centers on campus such as the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action and our designation as an Ashoka U Changmaker Campus provides us with a great framework for moving forward,” he said. “I believe we have much work to do as a society and as a university in helping people understand their roles as responsible citizens on and off campus as well as expanding on our work as an anchor institution in San Diego.”
Previously, Dr. Harris served for 13 years as the president of Widener University, a private, independent institution educating more than 6,300 students on four campuses in two states — Pennsylvania and Delaware. He initiated and oversaw the establishment of the Chester Higher Education Council, which is a consortium of a diverse group of colleges and universities dedicated to improving access to higher education for students from underserved populations. This consortium created the College Access Center of Delaware County, which serves more than 1,000 families annually. Under his leadership, Widener opened the Widener Partnership Charter School, the state’s first university-based charter school and also developed many other programs to engage the community such as the Chester Small Business Development Center and the Widener Nursing Clinic. During his tenure, the university completed its largest campaign, achieved the highest undergraduate enrollment in its history, improved the retention and graduate rates of students, and achieved national recognition for its work in civic engagement.
Prior to his appointment at Widener, he was the President of Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio, where he established the McMaster School for the Advancement of Humanity and developed a service-learning program that was ranked among the top 25 in the country.
The span of his career includes volunteer leadership service in numerous local, state, and national roles. Examples of his leadership include his service as Chair of Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, Chair of the Pennsylvania Campus Compact, and as Vice Chair of National Campus Compact, a national coalition of 1,200 college and university presidents dedicated to promoting civic engagement among college students. He also served on the executive committee of the NCAA and as Chair of the NCAA Division III Presidents Council. Currently, he serves as Chair-elect of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Board of Trustees, one of the largest educational associations in the world.
In recognition of his considerable contributions to education and the communities he has served, President Harris is the recipient of many awards and honors, including leadership awards from the NAACP for his work on defending civil rights. Earlier in his career, he was named by the John Templeton Foundation as one of the Top 50 Character-Building Presidents in America, and in 2011, he received the Chief Executive Leadership Award from CASE. Defiance College recognized him in 2002 with its highest recognition, the Pilgrim Award; and Widener University bestowed upon him the lifetime title of President Emeritus in 2015. In 2014, he was recognized with the College and University Public Relations and Associated Professionals’ Ciervo Award, presented to one who exemplifies the association’s fundamental purposes of supporting and advancing the understanding of higher education.
President Harris believes in the transformative power of education. “Education can change individuals and society for the better and it’s one of the great forces in the world today,” he said. President Harris was a first-generation college student whose life was transformed through three profound experiences during his college years. First, he found his Catholic faith, inspired in part by the charismatic spiritual leadership of Pope St. John Paul II. Secondly, he found his vocation and fell in love with the idea of teaching and of being an educator. And third, he found the love of his life, his wife, Mary. President Harris and his wife Mary have been married for 35 years and have two adult sons, Zachary and Braden.
With an authentic leadership style and engaging personality, President Harris creates meaningful connections with students and surrounds himself with student activities. For the past 21 years, he has annually traveled with students and small groups internationally. “I think global exposure for students is one of the most important experiences they can have while they’re in college,” he said. “The University of San Diego consistently ranks among the top three universities in the nation for the percentage of undergraduate students participating in a study abroad program. Last year, more than 70 percent of our students shared in an international experience. The challenge will be to make sure that every student at USD has equal opportunity for those experiences.”
Contributing to a transparent and fun campus environment, President Harris initiated “President for a Day,” where he switches places with a student. He regularly hosts President Forums, where he and other members of his leadership team update the campus on the progress of various initiatives. From ice cream socials to fireside chats, President Harris spends quality time with members of the campus community. At dawn, he can be found walking the trails of Tecolote Canyon with students, faculty, and staff. He regularly hosts students and faculty at his home for dinner, and will show up unexpectedly to student-sponsored events. He has a reputation at USD for being visible across the campus and always accessible to members of the campus community.
President Harris earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Toledo, a master’s degree in educational administration from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, and his doctorate in education from Pennsylvania State University. All three of his alma maters have recognized him for his leadership in education and in 2013, The Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees named him a Distinguished Alumnus, the highest honor the university bestows upon a graduate.
He remains an active scholar and teacher. In 2013, he co-authored a book titled Academic Leadership and Governance in Higher Education that was published by Stylus and was on their higher education best sellers list. Other recent writings include a chapter featured in the thought leadership series Presidential Perspectives titled “Convene, Cooperate and Collaborate: How Six Colleges and Universities Came Together to Address Issues of College Access for Urban Youth,” and an essay on “There is Value in Every Person” for the book This I Believe Philadelphia.