‘Exceptional leader’ President David R. Harris receives Union College contract extension

Publication Date

Over the past four years, Union College has enjoyed record fundraising success, launched an ambitious strategic plan and navigated COVID-19 in a manner that has allowed students to benefit from in-person learning for most of the pandemic.

For those reasons, and many more, it was an easy decision to reward President David R. Harris with a contract extension through June 30, 2027, said Board of Trustees Chair Robert Bertagna '85.

President David R. Harris

President David R. Harris

“President Harris has proven to be an exceptional leader throughout his tenure at Union,” Bertagna said. “He has assembled a strong team that is moving the College forward in a number of important areas even as we have successfully dealt with the significant disruption posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The future for Union is very bright, and this contract extension reflects the Board’s confidence in President Harris’ ability to guide the College to greater heights and provides important continuity for our community.”

Harris, Union’s 19th president, joined the College in July 2018. He began his tenure by leading a comprehensive effort to create the College’s current strategic plan. The five-year Power of Union initiative, launched in 2020, provides a clear roadmap designed to guide the College’s academic and administrative priorities through 2025 in service of Union’s vision of “developing every student to lead with wisdom, empathy and courage, in ways large and small, now and across multiple tomorrows.”

Under Harris’ leadership, Union safely returned to in-person learning in fall 2020, affording students many of the advantages of a residential college experience despite the challenging circumstances brought on by the pandemic earlier that year.

During Harris’ tenure, the College also has enjoyed the two best fund-raising years in its history and recently reached the $300 million milestone for its Powering Union campaign a year ahead of schedule. That success includes the largest gift in Union’s history - $51 million from 1980 alumni Mary and Rich Templeton to significantly enhance the College’s commitment to engineering and computer science in a liberal arts context. Also, the work during the 2021-22 academic year to secure $42 million in commitments to bring more Pell-eligible students to Union in perpetuity through the Schuler Education Foundation Access Initiative.

A sociologist by training, Harris has long been a powerful voice for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. That passion, accompanied by a researcher’s rigor for data and metrics, has resulted in a renewed commitment to DEIB at Union. He has reimagined the role of chief diversity officers on campus and championed the need for members of the Union community to “be comfortable being uncomfortable” as the College addresses challenging social issues. He also has worked tirelessly to increase access to Union to students across the socioeconomic spectrum – and then ensure those students have the type of Union experience worthy of their talents and passions.

“I am deeply appreciative of the confidence shown to me by our Board of Trustees, and for their ongoing support of our mission,” Harris said. “I also am proud of what we have accomplished together as a community over the past four years, but there is much work left to be done as we strive to elevate our standing as one of the country’s top liberal arts institutions.

“I continue to be humbled to be part of this amazing community and am excited to build on the foundation we have laid so that we can better help our students explore their passions, engage with the world around them and ultimately thrive, both today and across multiple tomorrows.”

A Philadelphia native, Harris earned his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees from Northwestern University. Prior to joining Union, he served as provost and senior vice president at Tufts University from 2012 to 2018. He also has held academic and administrative positions at the University of Michigan and Cornell University, and he served as deputy assistant secretary for human services policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2010-11. Harris and his wife, Anne, are the parents of three daughters, Maya, OIivia and Eve, and the owners of two dogs, Hershey and Teddy.