University of San Diego Names Nationally Recognized Higher-Education Leader James T. Harris III, DEd, as Fourth President

The University of San Diego announced today that Dr. James T. Harris, III, has been selected as the university’s fourth president. Dr. Harris will succeed Dr. Mary E. Lyons, who announced in January 2014 her plans to retire after a distinguished 12-year career as president of USD. Currently the President of Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, Dr. Harris will join USD on August 1, 2015.

“I am delighted to announce that after a national search, the University of San Diego Board of Trustees has unanimously selected Dr. James T. Harris, III to become the University of San Diego’s next president,” said USD Board Chairman Ron Fowler. “Dr. Harris is ideally suited to build upon the impressive progress witnessed at USD under the leadership of President Lyons. He is a compassionate, Catholic, servant leader with extensive experience leading a comprehensive, liberal arts based institution, with a particular commitment to student development and engagement in the community. His strategic leadership at Widener in creating a clear vision for the university, promoting shared governance, and delivering measurable results in a thriving educational environment has been independently recognized as a model for other universities,” said Fowler.

Since joining Widener in 2002, the university has grown to more than 6,300 students on four campuses in two states – Pennsylvania and Delaware. Recognized as one of the nation’s top universities for civic engagement, Widener is an institution where academics, leadership, and service matter.

“The University of San Diego is one of the nation’s finest Catholic Universities, and I am honored the Trustees have placed their confidence in me to lead this extraordinary institution. I was drawn to the University because of its commitment to providing a rigorous learning environment where faith and reason are compatible and students are encouraged to become change makers. Thanks to the extraordinary leadership of the Board and President Lyons as well as the commitment to academic excellence demonstrated by the faculty and staff, USD is poised for a great future. I am excited to become part of a truly vibrant and diverse community of scholars,” said Harris.

Prior to his appointment at Widener, Harris was the President of Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio, where he established a service-learning program that drew national attention. In 1999, the John Templeton Foundation named him one of the country’s top 50 character-building university presidents.

“Through both his words and actions, Dr. Harris’s distinguished career in academic leadership has reflected the same values that our students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and board members cherish at the University of San Diego,” said Fowler.

President Lyons and Dr. Harris served together on the National Campus Compact Board.

“I have served on numerous boards with many university leaders during my presidency, including with Dr. Harris, and the clarity of his thinking and persuasive leadership are standout qualities that will greatly benefit our university,” said Lyons.

Dr. Harris will become USD’s fourth president since the 1972 merger of the San Diego College for Women and the University of San Diego College for Men and School of Law. Previous USD presidents include Dr. Author Hughes, 1972 to 1996; Dr. Alice B. Hayes, 1996 to 2003; and current President Dr. Mary E. Lyons, who was appointed in 2003.

Dr. 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 honored him for his work in education. In 2013, he received The Distinguished Alumni Award from Penn State for his support of the university and his role in bridging the gap between Widener and the city of Chester. Harris has been married to his college sweetheart, Mary, for more than 30 years. The Harrises have two adult sons.

Additional details about Dr. Harris can be found on the University of San Diego’s website at:






About the University of San Diego

The University of San Diego sets the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative Changemakers confront humanity’s urgent challenges. With more than 9,000 students from 69 countries and 50 states, USD is the youngest independent institution on the U.S. News & World Report list of top 100 universities in the United States. The university's eight academic divisions include the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, the School of Law, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, and the Division of Professional and Continuing Education. USD's Envisioning 2024 strategic plan capitalizes on the university’s recent progress and aligns 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.


Denise Ward
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