About the President
Dr. James T. Harris (curriculum vita) has served as a college and university president for over twenty years. Since 2002, he has served as president of Widener University, and prior to that he served for eight years as president of Defiance College.
Under his leadership, Widener has been recognized nationally for academic excellence and community engagement efforts. During his tenure, Widener has experienced record growth in philanthropic support, undergraduate enrollment, and the University endowment has grown from $32 million to $90 million.
Harris has been asked to serve in several local, state and national leadership roles, including current service on the international board of trustees for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), former chair of the board of directors for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP), and former vice chair of Campus Compact, a national coalition of 1,200 college and university presidents. Previously, he served as chair of the President’s Council of NCAA Division III and a member of the executive committee of the NCAA.
Widener's reputation as a "student-centered" learning community has been enhanced by Dr. Harris. He frequently works alongside students, and in his career, has participated in twenty-five week-long service trips both internationally and domestically. Once a year he trades places with a student who becomes "President for a Day" while Dr. Harris fulfills the student's campus responsibilities, including attending classes.
In 2011, he was the recipient of the Chief Executive Leadership Award from CASE for his outstanding efforts in promoting and supporting educational and institutional advancement. Earlier in his career, he was recognized by the NAACP of Northwestern Ohio for his commitment to civil rights. In recognition of his contributions to education and the communities he serves, Harris was named by the John Templeton Foundation as one of the Top 50 Character Building Presidents in America.
Dr. Harris earned degrees from the University of Toledo, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, and 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.
In May 2013, Harris received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Widener University in recognition of his many accomplishments. He oversaw the establishment of the Chester Higher Education Council which supports the College Access Center of Delaware County, and under his leadership Widener opened the Widener Partnership Charter School, the state’s first university-based charter school.
Harris has remained an active scholar and teacher. He recently co-authored a book on academic leadership and governance that was published by Stylus in 2013. Since 2002, he has been on the faculty of the Harvard University summer institutes where he works with future higher education leaders from across the globe.
He and his wife Mary have been married for 33 years and have two sons, Zachary and Braden.