By Jessica Jones
Dr. William H. Harris has had three invitations to serve as president for ASU, and each time, his reason for accepting was different.
“The first time, I was struck by the possibilities of development,” Harris said. “That was back in 1994 and after reviewing it and studying it, it seemed like a place [where] we could really make some changes, so we did.”
Harris remained at the school until his retirement, returning in 2008. The third time he served as president, Harris returned to the position to temporarily fill in as president after the former president resigned.
Initially the school’s status as a historically Black college didn’t have much bearing on his decision to accept the first nomination for president, but over the years, the school’s status has become significant to Dr. Harris.
“We’ve got to make sure that we protect and save the university, and we’re doing everything we can to make that happen,” Dr. Harris said. “The idea that it is a historically Black college is important, but it’s not its only importance. The importance really is that it is a major institution in the state of Alabama that’s deserving of support and that’s what we’re going to make sure we fight to get.”
During his time as interim president, the school has undergone a substantial transformation, an accomplishment for the school that Dr. Harris considers noteworthy.
“Most recently I’m proud of the considerable transformation that has taken place both in terms of the physical status of the campus, we had considerable expansion of the facilities and buildings, and equally the development that had occurred in programing at Alabama State University over the last seven or eight years,” Dr. Harris said. “We have created and developed new programs in health sciences, health programs and life sciences. We have one of the few forensic science programs in the country and one of the few orthotics and prosthetics programs in the country, so there are lots of real important things to be proud of at ASU over recent years and those are among them.”
As president of a historically Black college, Dr. Harris understands the importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, but emphasized that Blacks aren’t the only ones who benefit from HBCUs.
“HBCUs are not just important for Black Americans; they’re important for all people of our country and of our states and we just need to understand that,” Dr. Harris said. “In addition to that, this genre of institutions has a special importance in that there is still a great deal of choices being made by young African Americans that they want to go to these traditionally Black colleges and universities and we have to exist for them.”
Not only is the presence of Historically Black Colleges and Universities essential, the traditions honored within the school are important as well.
“If you forget tradition you really forget what life is about,” Dr. Harris said. “Without tradition, a lot of life’s meaning is lost; we have to remember people who have made contributions in the past so we can have something against which we can set an expectation and a standard for ourselves.”
The Magic City Classic is one of those traditions. As the biggest game of the seasons for both schools, the Classic is more than just a one day event.
“It has become the single largest historically Black college/university football Classic game in the country. It’s not just a football game that takes place on Saturday afternoon. It’s a week of events that starts early and lasts through the end of that game.”