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  • NYS Writers Institute

In conversation: Union College President David R. Harris

In today's Conversation, Paul Grondahl interviews David R. Harris, who was named the 19th president of Union College in Schenectady on July 1, 2018.

He attended Northwestern University, where he earned a B.S. in human development and social policy in 1991, and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1997. He and his wife, Anne, met as undergraduates. They have three daughters.

From 2010 to 2011, he served as deputy assistant secretary for human services policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama Administration.

Notably, Harris's official bio on the Union College website doesn't mention he is the first Black president in the 225-year history of Union. That topic is among many discussed in the conversation

He shares memories of running in the 2013 Boston Marathon, a mile from the finish line when the bombs exploded, and the life-and-death decision about whether to bring students back to Union's campus during the pandemic.

David also talks about race and how it affects decision-making. He tells the story of the first time he was pulled over by the police. "I do think about it every time I see a police car behind me. Every single time." He was working for Enterprise Rent-a-Car and driving one of their cars on Santa Monica Boulevard...


Follow Union College President David R. Harris on Twitter at, where his tagline reads: "19th Union College President. Loves ideas, disparate perspectives, data, and conversation. Enjoys riding all types of bikes. Cherishes time with family."

He's also on Facebook at and Instagram at


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