When Steve Harris accepted the position of acting dean of students at Trevecca, it was for one year only.
He had no idea that one year would stretch into two, and eventually, the word acting would be erased from his title altogether. Harris, who has served the University for 39 years—34 as the dean of students—announced his retirement today.
“It has been a privilege and an honor to serve under three presidents and to be able to see the differences that have taken place at the University in that period of time,” Harris said.
Dr. Dan Boone, president of Trevecca, described Harris as the “walking brand of Trevecca,” a model employee who embodies the values and mission of the University.
“Steve Harris embodies all that is good about us,” Boone said. “His leadership is unparalleled for length and quality within Nazarene higher education. Upon his retirement, I celebrate the contribution he has made to a whole generation of Trevecca students. He is a Christian man, a faithful servant and a great friend of all.”
Harris’ retirement will become official at the end of June.
A 1978 graduate of Olivet Nazarene University, Harris has been a vital part of Trevecca’s campus life since 1979, when he joined the administration in a role created by a Title III grant. The grant focused on three areas: increasing student retention, developing basic skills and improving computer information systems. Harris’ work, housed in student services, centered on retention.
During that first year, Harris also served as the women’s volleyball coach, men’s basketball assistant coach and the women’s tennis coach.
“I was only home two weekends that entire school year,” he recalled. While Harris only served as the volleyball coach for one season, he continued as the women’s tennis coach for five seasons and served as an assistant coach to men’s basketball coach Frank Wilson for 10 seasons.
When the position of dean of students became vacant, then-Trevecca president Dr. Homer J. Adams asked Harris to fill the role as the acting dean, but only for a year.
“Dr. Adams stopped me on the way to practice,” Harris remembered. “He said, ‘Steve, I’d like you to set a time to come meet with me.’ Now the president never asked to talk to me before. I asked why.”
When Harris learned of Adams’ plan, he was taken aback.
“I said, ‘Dr. Adams, you don’t want me to do this. I’m only 27 years old,” Harris said. “But I told him OK, that I would do it for one year.”
After several years of serving for “just one more year,” Adams moved Harris into the position permanently. Harris has served under three Trevecca presidents: Adams, Dr. Millard Reed and Boone. Harris also holds the record for the longest serving dean of students in Trevecca history.
“This is completing year 34 as dean of students,” Harris said. “I think the longest dean of students was Dr. Coy Phillips. He and his wife were both professors here. When I became dean of students, I used to see him about once a year. He would tell me, ‘I have the record for the longest tenure as dean of students, seven years. I hope you can stay and tie my record.’ He was counting the years. … So, 34 years, I think I’ve broken his record.”
While Harris never expected to serve in the role as long as he has, he knows that he was called to it.
“When I was a student at Olivet—I played basketball at Olivet—I was walking back from practice one day,” Harris recalled. “It was like God’s voice was saying to me, ‘Would you consider being dean of students in the future?’ My response was, ‘I don’t even know what a dean of students does.’ I actually stopped walking, and I thought, ‘When I’m done coaching, then I’ll consider dean of students.’ I had not given a single thought to that until Dr. Adams called me in and asked me to be dean of students.”
Harris credits his student development team (which has a combined 102 years of service to Trevecca) and his family with making the success and longevity of his career possible.
“This would not have been possible without her,” Harris said of his wife, Jan, who grew up on Olivet’s campus and was eager to invest in students and be involved in campus life throughout Harris’ tenure at Trevecca. As for his sons, Ryan and David, Harris says he’s been “Dean Harris” as far as they can remember.
“The only way they know me is as Dean Harris,” he said with a laugh. “So there’s going to be quite a change when I’m no longer the dean of students.”
Harris isn’t exactly sure what the future will hold for him just yet. He plans to stay as involved with the University as possible. The hardest part, he says, will be getting used to a lifestyle that isn’t directly tied to the rhythms of campus.
“I think we’re going to miss the opportunity to be engaged with the campus for all the different special functions,” Harris said. “This has been a big part of our life. That will be a hard thing to get used to.”
For Harris, his legacy isn’t about setting service records or other achievements. It’s not 39 years of service or being a part of the University for nearly a third of its 117-year existence.
It’s about the students. It always has been.
“I would hope my legacy is that I am a person of character and integrity who faithfully carried out his responsibilities,” Harris said. “I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the lives of our students to help them achieve their goals so they could make an impact in the world for Christ. That has been the main thing on my mind over all the years.”