Running Toward the Future
New DSU president Harry Lee Williams has never stopped moving forward.
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At his coach’s urging, Williams began the routine he continues today, rising early to run. He quickly began setting school and state records in the mile and two-mile. And it wasn’t long before he and Hochmuth became more than just athlete and coach.
Williams’ parents, Nancy Williams and Harry Patterson, never married, and Patterson, who died in 1986, didn’t live with the family. Yet Williams had a strong relationship with his father, who worked as a janitor and later for the parks and recreation department. Patterson didn’t participate in his son’s school and church activities, however, so Hochmuth helped fill that void, hiring Williams as a babysitter for his children and lending him his car when Williams took his driver’s test. Hochmuth is white, but it wasn’t long before his teammates started calling Williams “Harry Hochmuth.” “It was a term of endearment,” he says.
As Williams approached graduation in 1982, Hochmuth began touting his star runner to various colleges. His efforts attracted a scholarship from Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina. Williams would spend most of the next two decades in that town of about 14,000, nestled high on the Blue Ridge. He met his wife there, started a family there, and that’s where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communication broadcasting and a master of arts in educational media. In 2002 he received a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis from East Tennessee State University, which this year honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award.
At Appalachian State, Williams progressed from an associate director to associate vice chancellor in the areas of academic affairs, enrollment and diversity. He served in that post from 1988 to 2000, then again from 2004 to 2007. From 2000 to 2004, he was interim director of admissions for North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Williams moved to DSU in July 2008 as provost and vice president of academic affairs. A month later, the controversial five-year presidency of Dr. Allen L. Sessoms ended when he resigned to become president of the University of the District of Columbia. Claibourne D. Smith, chairman of the DSU Board of Trustees, assumed an interim presidency as a national 17-month search for a new president was conducted. The search proved challenging.
According to John Land, who stepped in for Smith as board chair, the first posting attracted 60 responses, which were culled to 20, then to three. “They didn’t meet our needs,” Land says.
A second search began. Among the 48 candidates was the name of Harry Lee Williams, the only DSU employee to apply for the job. “The first time the timing wasn’t right because I was just completing my first year as the provost,” says Williams. When the job was posted again, he says, “Faculty, staff and students all encouraged me to apply. I also had a great deal of support from my wife and family.”
Williams was chosen during an executive session of the board on November 20. Among his biggest boosters was Land, who views Williams as a unifying force for a university that, he says, suffered from a previous administration that divided the alumni, faculty and student body. Land believes Williams demonstrated an ability to bridge those gaps during his brief time as provost. “Harry has earned the respect of the faculty, which is a challenge in itself at most universities,” Land says. “And his youth and background will bring new thoughts and new energy and help him relate to the students.”
Williams also seems committed to reaffirming DSU’s status among Historically Black Colleges and Universities, something that alumni in particular accused Sessoms of neglecting.
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