About the President

On July 1, 2002, Dr. James T. Harris (curriculum vita) 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. During President Harris’ tenure, Widener has gained increasing recognition for leadership in community service and civic engagement, being named among the nation's top service-oriented universities by Newsweek and Washington Monthly. 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).  Additionally, Dr. Harris oversaw the establishment of the College Access Center of Delaware County and the Widener Partnership Charter School. In May 2013,President Harris received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Widener University in recognition  of his many accomplishments and in 2011, he was the recipient of the Chief Executive Leadership Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). 

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 over twenty 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.

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.   

Dr. Harris received his doctorate in education from Pennsylvania State University. He 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 and in 2013, Penn State presented him with the Distinguished Alumni Award for his support of the university and his role in bridging Widener University and the city of Chester.   

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. 

He and his wife, Mary, have been married for 32 years and have two sons, Zachary and Braden.