Chancellor of the California Community Colleges: Who Is Brice Harris?

Friday, September 28, 2012
Brice Harris

Two months before voters will decide if the already-beleaguered state higher education system will absorb another budgetary body blow, Brice W. Harris has been selected to be the new chancellor of the 112-campus California Community Colleges.

Harris, who will succeed Jack Scott on election day, November 6, will have to deal with a $330 million mid-year budget cut if Proposition 30 is defeated at the polls. Prop. 30, proposed by Governor Jerry Brown, would up the sales tax a quarter point and increase income taxes in various measure on high-income earners. The $6 billion it would raise has already been factored into current budget expenditures.

Harris is a veteran education administrator who received a bachelor’s degree in communication from Southwestern Oklahoma State University in 1970 in preparation for a career in speech and theater. A month later he was teaching at a community college in Kansas City, Missouri.

Harris eventually picked up a master’s degree in communication from the University of Arkansas. He was awarded a doctorate in education by Nova Southeastern University in Florida and did post-doctoral work at the Harvard University Institute of Educational Management.   

Harris eventually became vice chancellor of the Metropolitan Community Colleges and in 1991 he ran for mayor of Kansas City in 1991.  Harris was the hand-picked candidate of a civic-minded group of movers and shakers, but was a political neophyte. Armed with significant financial backing, he waged an acrimonious campaign in the Democratic Party primary against corporate attorney Dick King, which was considered by some the city’s “most notorious mayor’s race” ever. While King and Harris slugged it out, long-shot candidate Emanuel Cleaver won the primary, and then the election.  

Harris finished third and left politics, and later that year was named president of Fresno City College. He stayed for five years before becoming chancellor of California’s 85,000-student Los Rios Community College District in 1996. At the four-campus district, Harris oversaw the establishment of the Folsom Lake campus.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Harris was the highest-paid chancellor in the community college system, with a total compensation package worth $390,000. The Los Rios district also reimbursed him for his $31,200 for his employee contribution to the California State Teachers' Retirement System.

Enrollment throughout the community college system has dropped by 485,000 students since the fall of 2008, classes have been slashed 24% and state funding has been cut $809 million. Tough times throughout the community college system were reflected in Los Rios’ three-year tuition increase from $26 per credit to $46 last summer.

Harris announced his retirement early in 2012, at which time he told the Bee, “I still have my health and other chapters in my life. I'm not leaving the community.” Upon his retirement, the district board of trustees renamed the regional fine and performing arts facility at Folsom Lake College the Harris Center for the Arts.

Harris is past president of the board of the California Community College Chief Executive Officers, and a commissioner of the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges. He chaired the Task Force on Leadership in California community colleges and the community college Task Force on Global and International Education. Harris is a past member of the board of directors of the American Association of Community Colleges, is a past chairman of the board of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and of the board of the Northern California World Trade Center. He served on the board of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, as board president of the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra and board member of the Kansas City Museum.

Harris and his wife Barbara, an art teacher, have three grown children.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Community Colleges’ New Chief (by Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle)

California Community Colleges Names New Chancellor to Head Nation’s Largest Higher Ed. System (Associated Press)

Brice Harris Steps Down as Chancellor of Los Rios College District (by Melody Gutierrez, Sacramento Bee)

Working Lunch with Brice Harris (by Douglas Curley, Comstock’s)

Distinguished Alumni (SWOSU Association)

Three Stages Gets New Name in Honor of Retiring Official (by Laura Newell, El Dorado Hills Telegraph)

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