Earlier this spring, following a competitive national search, Bennie L. Harris, Ph.D., was named USC Upstate’s seventh chancellor. Harris succeeds Brendan Kelly, who served from 2017-2020, and assumed his new post on July 1. Most recently, Harris served as senior vice president for Institutional Advancement at the Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) in Atlanta, Ga., a position he held since 2014. Prior to that, he was vice president for Development and Alumni Relations at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.
“I am excited about the opportunity to lead an exceptional regional public institution that is well-respected, diverse, mission relevant and located in a region that offers unlimited partnerships,” said Harris. “Upstate’s strategic plan outlines compelling objectives that are important in transforming the lives of young people and the Upstate region. I have always valued the importance of education, in not only improving my life and that of my family, but in building a community of economically and socially healthy, prosperous people.”
As a senior vice president at MSM, Harris was a member of the executive leadership team. He co-chaired the institution’s five-year strategic plan and served as a key member in the development of the school’s Leadership Academy, a program designed to promote leadership among faculty and staff. He dramatically impacted the school’s fundraising outcomes, launching a $225 million comprehensive campaign and growing fundraising income to $112 million, an increase of more than 265% over six and a half years. MSM has received $177,309,691 in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 2015.
As vice president for Development and Alumni Relations at Lipscomb University from 2007-2014, Harris provided strategic leadership in all areas of development, grants management, and alumni relations to include corporate, foundation and government relations, major and planned gifts, annual giving, donor stewardship and advancement services. Under his direction, fundraising increased by 332% within four years, climbing to $32,238,899 in FY2012 compared with $9,716,139 in FY2009.
“Without debate, external funding from philanthropic and other sources, including state and federal grants, will differentiate USC Upstate and position it for greatness,” said Harris. “As chancellor, I will play an integral role in identifying and acquiring resources to achieve Upstate’s vision. I believe strongly that growing USC Upstate’s endowment over the next five to ten years is necessary and achievable.”
“Concurrently, growing student enrollment will position the University to become one of the leading student-centered universities in the region,” added Harris. “By working with the provost, academic leadership and key institution stakeholders, I will continue Upstate’s commitment to growth by improving academic programs, creating programs that respond to new employment needs, deepening the impact of service, adding new facilities, renovating and adapting existing spaces to emerging technologies and methods, and expanding the permanent resources necessary for long-term service and success.”
Harris’ professional experience also includes executive administrative positions at DePaul University in Chicago, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. He has served as faculty throughout his career, focusing on courses in management, servant leadership and strategic marketing, and most recently was an assistant professor in the department of community health and preventive medicine at MSM.
He has presented at many industry conferences and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including multiple distinguished service awards and a 2020 Gold Award for an integrated campaign from the International Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts (AIVA). He is a member of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Development Board, and a faculty member of the “Securing the Largest Gifts” summer program offered by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). He currently serves on the board of trustees at Lipscomb University and on the board of the Susan G. Komen Foundation in Atlanta.
A native of Rosedale, Miss., Harris earned a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from Mississippi State University; a Master of Business Administration from Washington State University; and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is married to Frankie Andrea Harris and they have three adult children, Bria, Bennie II, and Branden.
“I want to innovate and help transform the university to participate in the changing dynamics of higher education while growing enrollment and promoting financial stability,” he told assembled guests.
Over the past year, Harris said, students, faculty and staff alike have experienced virtual education and job models that have worked, and that presents an opportunity.
“I think it’s going to be hard to have an exclusive/one method of delivering education. So we have to be prepared for that, and I think we can lead it,” he added.
Harris’ second goal for Upstate is focused on the university’s role as a significant contributor to the region’s economic development. Citing projected growth, he said the university must be a development “multiplier.”
“When people think about Spartanburg and this region,” he said, “they think of USC Upstate as a partner. We are important to the economic viability of this area and I want us to stand up and be seen.”
In closing, Harris recognized members of the Chancellor Search Committee, faculty and staff.
“I am humbled by your support and the strong vote of confidence you have provided me,” he said. “It is my objective to embrace your aspirations for this university, and I hope that 10 or 20 years from now, you’ll look back and feel exceptionally good about the decision you made to invite me into your community and lead the University of South Carolina Upstate.”