MURFREESBORO — Blind since birth, John Harris attended MTSU in the late 1970s and later returned to become the university’s first Disabled Student Services director in 1985.
This week, Harris will be retiring from the job he calls “the greatest thing ever to happen to me” after 27-plus years of service as an iconic member of the university staff.
A native of Munford, Tenn., in Tipton County, Harris officially will retire Thursday, Aug. 15, but will stay on in a part-time capacity while a replacement is found. The university held a celebration for Harris on Tuesday in the Keathley University Center.
One of the most treasured people on campus because of his outgoing personality, attitude and how he treats others, Harris said it was time to leave.
“Sometimes you kind of need to know when it’s time to do something different or move in another direction,” he said. “Two questions I kept asking myself were, ‘Do I have enough money to live on and could I wake up every morning at 7 or 7:30 and not have anywhere to go?’ For 27 years, I had this job. How am I going to manage that?”
Factoring into his decision was changing technology.
“What I do best is sitting down with students and mapping out a strategy for life,” he said. “You don’t have a lot of time to do that. Things just move too fast.”
Harris, who turns 62 on Oct. 27, leaves a lasting impression on his superiors and colleagues for his efforts in administering the Americans with Disabilities Act and his being in the corner for students with disabilities. The MTSU program recently had 770 students with disabilities that range from vision, hearing, physical, psychological, learning and others.
“John is like an ADA celebrity within the state,” said Dr. Watson Harris, ADA coordinator and director of MTSU’s Academic Technology Planning and Projects. “And he deserves this celebrity status. He is an excellent advocate for students with disabilities. His heart is in helping these students survive not only college, but pushing them to be successful in life.”
Sarah Sudak, associate vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, said Harris “established the program at MTSU and has grown the program over the years to serve the needs of our varied students. Throughout his years of service, John has broadened his reach beyond the MTSU campus and has become a valuable resource across the state.”
“But he has never forgotten that his roots are at MTSU,” Sudak added. “I know John is eager to see the program reach the next level, and we are committed to insuring his legacy continues to serve our students well.”
Deb Sells, vice president for Student Affairs, said Harris “has left an indelible mark on MTSU, having been the primary builder of our highly successful program to support disabled students on our campus.”
“John has served as a skilled service provider, while also serving as a role model for students pursuing their education and career,” Sells said. “John’s strength has been his ability to build effective relationships, not only with students, but with faculty, staff, parents, legislators and other professionals throughout the state. He will be missed.”
Harris said he was a captain who compiled a 21-3 individual record wrestling in the 120-pound weight division when in high school at Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville. He is a season ticket holder for MTSU football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball games. Influenced by his grandfather, who was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, Harris remains a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball fan, listening to many of their games on radio and occasionally on television.
How does Harris want to be remembered?
“That I love the school (MTSU), that I gave everything I had every day I came to work and that I never wanted to leave work any day and say I didn’t try to help students that day.”