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James T. Harris is the president of Widener  University in Chester, Pa. He will become president of the University of San Diego on Aug. 1.

USD Chooses Nationally-Recognized

Education Leader as Next President

The University of San Diego has turned to a nationally recognized leader in higher education to be its fourth president to succeed Mary E. Lyons, who is retiring this year after 12 years at the Catholic university.

James T. Harris III is the president of Widener University in Chester, Pa., also a Catholic university, which he joined in 2002. Since then, the university has grown to more than 6,300 students on four campuses in two states — Pennsylvania and Delaware. Widener is recognized as one of the nation’s top universities for civic engagement.

Harris will assume the USD post on Aug. 1.

“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,” said Harris in the announcement of his selection. “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.”

Ron Fowler, USD board chairman,  described Harris as “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.”

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 Harris served together on the National Campus Compact Board.

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.

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 presidents: Dr. Author Hughes, 1972 to 1996; Dr. Alice B. Hayes, 1996 to 2003; and Lyons, who was appointed in 2003.


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