Walter Harrison has served as president of the University of Hartford since 1998, a period that spans nearly a third of the University’s history. Under his leadership, the University has experienced a period of energy and vitality unmatched in its history. During this period, which included two significant national economic downturns, the University’s academic quality, finances, and fundraising have all improved dramatically.
Harrison’s presidency has been marked by a renewal and restoration of the University’s campus. Major additions or renovations to the University’s signature academic facilities include the Renée Samuels Center of the Hartford Art School (opened in January 2007), the Integrated Science, Engineering, and Technology Complex (opened in 2005), the Mort and Irma Handel Performing Arts Center, which houses the Dance and Theatre divisions of The Hartt School (opened in September 2008), and the Shaw Center at Hillyer College (opened in 2012). In addition, the University’s newest residence hall, the five-story Hawk Hall, was completed in August 2007; new athletics fields for soccer, lacrosse, softball, and baseball opened in 2006; and a significant renovation of the University Commons dining hall took place in 2014. A major renovation of and addition to the University Libraries is currently underway, and the renovation of Gengras Student Union begins in 2017.
Among the new academic programs that have been added during President Harrison’s tenure are a bachelor’s degree in multimedia web design and development, a combined bachelor’s in Health Science/Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics (MSPO), a bachelor’s in Health Science leading to the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, a master’s degree in architecture, an accelerated joint doctoral degree in pharmacy in partnership with the University of Saint Joseph, and three low-residency MFA programs in photography, illustration, and global arts.
The University’s vibrant relationship with the greater Hartford community is a hallmark of President Harrison’s leadership. The University is a recognized leader in helping to improve public schools. It was the first private university in the country with two public magnet schools on campus—the University of Hartford Magnet School (pre-K through grade 5) and the University High School of Science and Engineering.
President Harrison is recognized as a leader in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). He was the 2015 recipient of the prestigious NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award for his work to improve the academic success of student-athletes. He chaired the NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance from its creation in 2004 to 2014, as well as the NCAA’s Executive Committee from 2005 to 2007. He became a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in 2015.
President Harrison serves on many boards in the Hartford area, including Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, World Business Capital, The Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, and the MetroHartford Alliance. He is a past president of Hartford Stage, and was one of the founders of The Connecticut Science Center. In 2016, he received a Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, from Goodwin College.
Prior to joining the University of Hartford, President Harrison was vice president of university relations and secretary of the university at the University of Michigan. He was also previously president of Gehrung Associates University Relations Counselors and, before that, a faculty member and administrator at Colorado College.
President Harrison is a scholar of American literature and culture. A native of Pittsburgh, he graduated from Trinity College in Hartford in 1968, and then earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1969. After an interim of three years to serve as an officer in the United States Air Force, President Harrison earned a doctorate from the University of California–Davis. His doctoral dissertation, “Out of Play: Baseball Fiction from Pulp to Art,” was one of the earliest scholarly treatments of baseball and its place in American life.
He and his wife, Dianne, a scholar of 19th-century Victorian literature and mystery literature, make their home in Russell House, the president’s residence at the University of Hartford.