About the President
On July 1, 2002, Dr. James T. Harris became the ninth president of Widener University. By 2004, after leading a comprehensive and inclusive planning process that included representatives from all of Widener’s campuses, Chester residents and communities, President Harris submitted a formal strategic plan with a new vision and mission that was adopted by the Board of Trustees.
With support from President Harris, Widener’s affiliations with national initiatives such as Project Pericles, Campus Compact, and the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU), have solidified the university’s identity as a metropolitan university where learning and curricula are connected to societal issues through civic engagement. Indeed, during President Harris’ tenure, Widener has improved its reputation and standing among institutions of higher education, especially in the areas of civic engagement, experiential learning, and leadership.
Widener has gained increasing recognition for its public service and civic engagement:
- Ranked 19th in the U.S., by the 2011 Newsweek/The Daily Beast school ranking for service that combines public institutions and private liberal arts schools.
- Ranked among the top 100 institutions in the annual Washington Monthly rankings since the magazine’s inaugural college issue in 2005.
- Named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for every years since 2006. In 2013, Widener was a finalist for the Honor Roll Presidential Award, one of only 14 institutions in the nation to be so honored.
- Classified among the first universities in the nation as a “community engagement institution’ by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
- Identified as a "Great College to Work For" by The Chronicle of Higher Education and selected a “Military Friendly School by G.I. Jobs Magazine for the past three years.
In 2011, Widener was included, along with 17 other colleges and universities, as an example of an exceptional academic institution in the book, Leading Change: How Boards and Presidents Build Exceptional Academic Institutions (AGB Press, 2010).
Prior to joining Widener, Dr. Harris spent eight years as the president of Defiance College in Ohio. During his tenure there, Dr. Harris oversaw two successful fundraising campaigns that raised $23 million; he also established a successful service-learning program. In 1999, he was named as one of the top 50 character-building university presidents in the U.S. by the John Templeton Foundation.
Since 2002, he has been a member of the faculty of the Management Development Program and the Management in Leadership Education Program at Harvard University. In 2003, he was given the Alumni Fellow Award by Penn State.
Harris received his doctorate in education from Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Harris also earned degrees from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (MEd, Educational Administration) and the University of Toledo in Ohio (BEd, Secondary Education/Comprehensive Social Sciences). All three universities have recognized Dr. Harris as a distinguished alumnus.