The Walter Harrison Medal for Outstanding Leadership recognizes an individual whose dedication to the University has been extraordinary and sustained, whose vision has been transformative, whose commitment to diversity and inclusivity has been exemplary, and whose leadership has advanced the University’s academic excellence, financial strength, sense of community, and overall reputation with internal and external constituencies.
Walter Harrison, PhD, has conferred countless degrees and bestowed many honors in his 19 years as University president. Presiding over his final University of Hartford Commencement, Harrison will be on the receiving end of a newly created University medal named in his honor in recognition of his legacy of leadership.
The fifth and longest-serving president of the University of Hartford, Harrison took office on July 1, 1998. His presidency spans nearly a third of the University’s 60-year history. Harrison’s leadership has always been focused on providing an excellent educational experience for students—and he monitored that experience by teaching classes, attending performances and athletic events, and talking to students while on frequent walks across campus.
Harrison’s tenure included two significant national economic downturns, yet the University’s academic quality, finances, and fundraising have all improved dramatically. The University has experienced a period of energy and vitality unmatched in its history.
Harrison has been instrumental in maintaining and promoting diversity on campus, where the student body is now three times more diverse than it was in 1998, and includes students from 63 countries. He has overseen the introduction of many new degree programs and has championed a renewal and restoration of the University’s physical campus.
The University’s vibrant relationship with the Greater Hartford community is a hallmark of Harrison’s leadership, as evidenced by the Hartford Business Journal presenting him with a lifetime achievement award last November. As a recognized leader in helping to improve public schools, he is proud that the University was the first in the country to have two public magnet schools on its campus.
Harrison is also 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. Harrison 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.
Harrison serves on many boards in the Hartford area, including St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, WorldBusiness Capital, the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, and MetroHartford Alliance. He is a past president of Hartford Stage, was one of the founders of the Connecticut Science Center, is a member of the advisory board of Newman’s Own Foundation, and chairs the board of directors of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges. In 2016, he received a Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, from Goodwin College and the Alfred C. Fuller Medal from the University’s Hartt School.
A scholar of American literature and culture, Harrison is a Pittsburgh native who 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, 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.
“Walt is an extraordinary leader and an exemplary human being,” says University of Hartford Board of Regents Chair Lucille Nickerson. “His commitment to advancing the interests of the University knows no bounds and his energy matches his convictions. Nineteen years ago, we welcomed a president with high standards and big dreams. In his presence, we have prospered.”