Although he was known as a businessman, Irving Harris’ true passion was improving the lives of children through innovative solutions to wide-ranging social problems. He understood intimately the connection between groundbreaking research and work in the field, and was instrumental in launching several initiatives and nonprofit institutions, including Project Head Start, the Erikson Institute, and the Ounce of Prevention Fund.

Harris believed in the power of knowledge. He realized the potential of investing in a world-class research institute in the heart of the city’s South Side and chose the University of Chicago as a key beneficiary of his time and talent.

Commitment to Public Policy

Although he had a wide range of interests, his greatest commitment was to the study of public policy. He believed that societal tensions could be alleviated through effective social policies. He was dismayed that many of the country’s brightest young leaders who had the capabilities to address these challenges were forgoing careers in the public sphere for lucrative jobs on Wall Street. Harris led initiatives to launch the new Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University and provided its core endowment. In 1990, the University renamed the school in his honor.

Irving believed that the University of Chicago is the perfect place for attracting intelligent and committed students who care about making a contribution outside of the traditional areas of law, medicine and business.

Joan Harris, President of the Irving Harris Foundation 

Harris remained active in Harris Public Policy programs throughout his life. In 1988, he created the Mentor Program, now an integral component of the school, which matches students with leading policy professionals for one-on-one mentoring relationships in their field of interest. The program is the only one of its kind at any leading public policy institution.

In 1999, he initiated and endowed the University’s Center for Human Potential and Public Policy. The center integrates research and policy perspectives on improving the health, welfare, and development of children and their families.

Continuing Inspiration

Harris continues to serve as an inspiration to all of those he touched. His legacy of vision and generosity will continue to motivate people to make a difference.

The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy was founded on the belief that rigorous, quantitative research is the best guide for public policy. As one of six professional schools at the University of Chicago, we build on the University’s tradition of scholarship and innovation to bring an exacting, data-driven perspective to the full spectrum of policy concerns. It's this point of view, rather than a particular policy domain, that has defined Harris since its founding and guides us as we address today's most complex challenges and nurture a new generation of leaders driven to change the world by guiding them toward impact.

Ariel Kalil

Daniel Levin Professor

Ariel Kalil

Ariel Kalil is a Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.