Former provost Grace E. Harris to be awarded an honorary degree from William & Mary

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Grace E. Harris, Ph.D., former provost and vice president for academic affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, will be awarded an honorary degree from William & Mary during that university’s 2015 Charter Day ceremony on Feb. 6.

Harris received her undergraduate degree in sociology from Hampton Institute, which is now Hampton University. Although she graduated with honors, she was originally denied admission into graduate school at Richmond Professional Institute (then a part of William & Mary) in the 1950s because of her race. She attended Boston University, which accepted African-American students. A year later, Harris was accepted at Richmond Professional Institute, where she would earn a master’s degree in social work in 1960.

Harris began her long career at VCU in 1967 when she joined the social work faculty. She later became dean of the School of Social Work, then vice provost for continuing studies and public service. She served as provost and vice president for academic affairs from 1993 to 1999 and twice served as acting president in 1995 and 1998.

Harris is a distinguished professor in the Center for Public Policy and currently leads the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, both in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. The institute was established at her retirement to honor her longstanding leadership, service and contributions.

The former School of Business building was rededicated as Grace E. Harris Hall in December 2007 and she was honored for five decades of dedicated service to VCU in 2010.

Harris has received many awards and honors for her professional and community contributions, including VCU’s Presidential Medallion Award. She was cited for her leadership in establishing the first-ever long-range strategic plan for VCU. The university also awarded her with the Presidential Award for Community Multicultural Enrichment and the Riese-Mellon Award.

Harris has also received honorary degrees from the University of Richmond and Virginia Union University and was recognized as Educator of the Year by the Richmond Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

Harris is a native of Halifax County. She and her husband, James W. “Dick” Harris, have two adult children.


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