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Dr. William H. Harris, Former Alabama State University President, Dies at 79

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Dr. William H. Harris, former Alabama State University President, died on Friday, April 19, the university announced. He was 79. (Provided)

The Birmingham Times

Dr. William H. Harris, former Alabama State University President, died on Friday, April 19, the university announced. He was 79.

“The university extends its deepest condolences to President Harris’ wife, former first lady Wanda Harris, his son Dr. William J. Harris, and his family, friends, former employees, alumni and the myriad people whom he impacted,” said ASU President Quinton T. Ross Jr., in a release Saturday afternoon.

Dr. Harris was a native of Georgia, and prior to coming to ASU he served as president of Paine College and Texas Southern University.

According to the university, Dr. Harris became president in June 1994. In April 2000, the then-56-year-old Dr. Harris issued a simple, short statement: “I am retiring.” However, he returned to the presidency position several times on an interim basis.

Dr. Harris joined ASU as president in 1994, bringing 28 years of higher education experience to the university. He retired for the first time in 2000, but returned to work in 2005 as interim president of Fort Valley State University, where he served until 2006.

In 2008, he again left retirement to serve as interim president of Texas College and returned to ASU as interim president the same year. A year later, he regained his status as full president of ASU and remained on the job until September 2012 when he stepped aside to make way for former ASU President Joseph Silver.

But when the university’s board of trustees abruptly approved a settlement agreement that secured Silver’s resignation after just 13 weeks on the job, Dr. Harris was again called upon to serve as interim president. His third and final retirement in 2014 ushered in the university’s first female president, Gwendolyn Boyd.

Dr. Harris had a vision of a comprehensive regional university following Knight v. State of Alabama, according to the university’s library. The nearly 30-year federal court case challenged policies of the state’s colleges and universities on the grounds that they were racially discriminatory.

During his first six years at ASU, the Montgomery Advertiser reported that Dr. Harris:

  • Established a School of Allied Health.
  • Navigated ASU through the Knight v. Alabama case.
  • Laid groundwork for ASU’s first doctoral programs.
  • Saw the debut of the ASU Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African American Culture.
  • Saw the opening of ASU’s Business and Technology Center.

He earned his bachelor’s degree at Paine College in Georgia and attended Indiana University to obtain his M.A. and Ph.D. He received the Distinguished Alumni Service Award from Indiana University in 1991. In 1978-1979, Dr. Harris was a Fulbright professor and visiting professor of history at the University of Hamburg in Germany.

At the time of his death, Dr. Harris was a resident of Hilton Head, South Carolina. The family said final arrangements are pending and will be shared once finalized.