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A remarkable lady of incredible talent and vision, Dr. Grace Edmondson Harris had a unique experience with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). A native of rural Halifax County in southern Virginia, she was denied admission to graduate study at VCU (then Richmond Professional Institute), a large public university in Richmond, Virginia. Ironically, later in 1967, Dr. Harris became the first African American female faculty member in the School of Social Work at VCU and ascended the ranks to become Dean of the School of Social Work, Provost, and Acting President prior to her retirement in 1999. Although Dr. Harris has strong ties to the African American community, to situate her contributions to VCU solely in terms of a "segregation to integration" narrative misses the mark. It fails to capture her success in leading the School of Social Work and her clear vision in her capacity as provost and in developing VCU's First Strategic Plan. She continues to share her leadership talents through the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, which was established at VCU in her honor upon her retirement. Most recently, in 2008, an academic building on VCU's campus was named "Grace E. Harris Hall." Through a series of interviews with Dr. Harris, as well with as current and former administrators and faculty at VCU, we offer a description and analysis of Dr. Harris' leadership style spanning her 40 year tenure at Virginia Commonwealth University. It is a style that we (and others) find to be uniquely effective, people centered, and decisive.
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VCU Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute Publications