Charles S. Harris, the former athletic director at the University of Pennsylvania, Arizona State University, and Averett University in Virginia, and the former commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, died on December 7. He was 71 years old.
Harris was a native of Richmond, Virginia. He worked on a rural farm while attending racially segregated schools. After graduation from high school, Harris enrolled at what is now Hampton University in Virginia. As an undergraduate, he was active in campus life, serving as an announcer and subsequently manager of the campus radio station. After earning a bachelor’s degree in media arts, he began a career on the campus of Hampton as a media services employee at the university’s nursing school.
In 1974, Harris was admitted to the University of Michigan Graduate School of Journalism. Concurrently, he worked in the university’s department of intercollegiate athletics, initially in media services and progressing to the title of assistant director of athletics.
In 1979, Harris accepted the position of director of intercollegiate athletics and recreation at the University of Pennsylvania. With this appointment, he became the first African American and youngest person to serve as an athletic director at an Ivy League school. He served at the University of Pennsylvania until 1985 when he accepted the position of director of athletics at Arizona State University.
Harris became commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 1996. Today the conference has eight member institutions, all historically Black universities. Harris served as commissioner for seven years.
In 2004 Harris was named director of athletics at Averett University in Danville, Virginia. In 2007 he took on the additional title of vice president of student services and later was named executive vice president of the university. Harris retired from Averett University in 2021.