King Harris

“I have watched with pride as Chicago Harris has grown, and our family is proud to contribute to its future,” says King Harris. “The school has expanded as much as possible in its current home, and now it is time to scale up so it can reach its potential.”

The Harris family is pledging $12.5 million toward the Keller Center and Dean Daniel Diermeier’s “2 x 20” initiative, which aims to double the size of the school by 2020. It is a characteristically targeted gift, reflective of the family’s longtime support for the school.

King Harris takes his philanthropic cues from his father, Neison Harris, and his uncle, Irving Harris, both major philanthropists during their lifetimes. Irving Harris, for whom the school is named, provided the core endowment for Chicago Harris, and his wife, Joan, helped launch the campaign last year with an additional $10 million challenge grant from the Irving Harris Foundation.

“Both my father and Irving taught us all to be intelligent with our philanthropy,” King Harris says. “They saw private funding as a way to bring research and development to organizations and institutions that needed it but could not afford it. They showed how our gifts could provide the impetus to get things going in the right direction. In this case, we are sustaining that direction.”

Harris’s philanthropy is informed by deep involvement with many financial and social institutions. He heads a family investment office, Harris Holdings, and serves as board chair of AptarGroup, Inc., an international packaging company. He also chairs the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art, sits on the Executive Committee of the Chicago Community Trust and serves as a University trustee and chair of the Chicago Harris Visiting Committee.

The depth of Harris’s commitment to improving society was apparent at the outset of his career. After graduating from Harvard in 1965, he enrolled in the Peace Corps and served as a community development worker in Lota, Chile. He returned to Harvard and received an MBA in 1969. From 1969 to 1971, he served as a neighborhood center director in Revere and Malden, Massachusetts, for the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity, a national anti-poverty program.

Harris continues to work on community development issues as a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Planning Council. He has specialized in affordable housing issues for the last 15 years and has worked actively with suburban leaders on forward-looking housing planning. He also helps Chicago Harris students gain practical experience as a longstanding member of the school’s Mentor Program.

The Keller Center, Harris believes, will strengthen the faculty’s capacity to train students in many policy areas. It will also broaden the school’s impact by enabling faculty to enhance their research. “It all supports a growing and sustainable community,” he says, “whose graduates will be out in the world applying their skills toward the important challenges of today and tomorrow.” 

Ronald Litke


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