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Widener Trustees Extend Contract of President James Harris

The trustees of Widener University will extend the contract of President James T. Harris III for another five years beyond its current expiration date. The contract extension was announced by Board of Trustees Chairman Nicholas Trainer today and will extend Dr. Harris’s role as president through June 30, 2017.

"President Harris's strong and inspiring vision for Widener University to become a leading metropolitan institution isPresident Harris matched only by his approach to lead us toward a future in which our university is recognized as one of the most dynamic and civically committed universities in the country," said Trainer. "The trustees are confident that Dr. Harris is the best president for Widener University at this time in our history and delighted he has agreed to this extension."

Named to the position in 2002, Harris is only the ninth president in the 191-year history of Widener University. During his tenure, Widener University has increased its student population to reach record undergraduate enrollment numbers, enhanced its commitment to students and faculty through advanced educational studies and nationally accredited programs, and received national recognition for its leadership in civic engagement. Highlights of President Harris's work at Widener include:

  • New doctorate programs in social work, human sexuality, and nursing and expanded graduate and undergraduate offerings in cutting-edge programs such as biomedical engineering and informatics.
  • New School of Education, Innovation, and Continuing Studies.
  • Establishment of the Oskin Leadership Institute with a $5 million gift, the largest in Widener's history, from David (PMC '64) and JoEllen Oskin along with their late son, David Jr. The institute's mission is to inspire students to be strategic leaders and responsible citizens who possess the character, courage, and competencies to affect positive change throughout the world.
  • A prestigious invitation to join the New American Colleges and Universities, a national consortium of 22 selective, independent colleges and universities dedicated to the purposeful integration of liberal arts, professional studies, and civic responsibility.
  • Accolades from national media outlets—Widener was ranked #19 by Newsweek/The Daily Beast on their list of the most service-oriented schools in the United States, recognized by PreLaw magazine among the best law schools for public interest, and placed in the top 100 by Washington Monthly magazine for universities serving the country.
  • More than $50 million raised so far for a comprehensive, five-year fundraising campaign despite one of the worst economic times in recent history.
  • Capital improvements throughout the university totaling more than $222 million.
  • Largest undergraduate population in the history of the university, increasing the percentage of minority students by 69 percent over the past ten years.
  • A strengthened connection between Widener University and the City of Chester through initiatives such as the Widener Partnership Charter School, Chester Higher Education Council, University Crossings, Small Business Development Center, Chester Community Physical Therapy Clinic, and Chester Community Nursing Clinic.
  • Expansion of the university's educational mission with the opening of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Exton, PA.
  • More than doubled the institutional financial aid available to students.
  • A greater global presence through partnerships with Chongqing Technology and Business University in China and Dongseo University in South Korea.

"I am sincerely grateful to my colleagues at Widener for all that we have accomplished over the past decade. I am especially thankful for the continued support of the Board of Trustees and am humbled in their confidence that together we can continue to move our institution forward," said Harris. "It is an honor and a privilege to serve as president of Widener University, and I look forward to the opportunities for our university to become an even more exceptional learning environment for all of our students."

In addition to serving as Widener's president, Dr. Harris is the current chair of the Board of Directors of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, the vice chair of the National Board of Campus Compact, and the vice president of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities. 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 2011, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) presented President Harris with the Chief Executive Leadership Award (District II). He co-authored Academic Leadership and Governance of Higher Education, which will be published this fall by Stylus Publishing.

Dr. Harris earned degrees from the University of Toledo, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania State University. Prior to his arrival at Widener, Dr. Harris served eight years as president of Defiance College in Ohio.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development, and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener is comprised of eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences and professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate's, baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral degrees. The university's campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, PA, and Wilmington, DE, serve approximately 6,500 students. Visit the university's website,, for more information.