Grace E. Harris, the former provost and vice president for academic affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, died on February 12. She was 84 years. Dr. Harris was the first African American women to serve as a chief academic officer at a four-year public university in Virginia.
A native of Halifax County, Dr. Harris was the valedictorian of her high school and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology at what is now Hampton University in Virginia. After graduating from college, in 1954 Dr. Harris applied to the Richmond Professional Institute, which later became Virginia Commonwealth University. She was denied admission because of the color of her skin. The state then paid to send Dr. Harris to Boston University. She later transferred to Richmond Professional Institute and earned a master of social work degree. Dr. Harris later earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Virginia.
Dr. Harris joined the faculty of what is now Virginia Commonwealth University in 1967. She was one of three African Americans who were the first Black faculty members at the school. In 1982, Dr. Harris was appointed dean of the School of Social Work. She served as provost and vice president for academic affairs from 1993 to 1999, and twice was named acting president.
After stepping down as provost. Dr. Harris continued to teach at the university until 2015, completing 48 years on the faculty. The Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute has been established at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.