By Cindy Mindell
University of Hartford President Walter Harrison has been appointed to the board of directors of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
Harrison, who has served as the university’s president since 1998, says he was “deeply flattered” when he got the call from Carol Smokler, a friend and colleague from his tenure at University of Michigan, where he served as vice president of university relations and secretary of the university.
“As a university president, I am approached about joining many boards, and already serve on many, both local and national,” he says. “But Hillel has been important to me since my wife, Dianne, served as the director of development of the University of Michigan Hillel in the mid-1990s. I know what an important place Hillel holds in Jewish life on our college campuses, and as the university with the seventh largest percentage of Jewish students on its campus of any university in America, the University of Hartford is especially reliant on a vibrant Hillel.”
Of the more than 7,300 students at University of Hartford, approximately 1,500 are Jewish, and are served by a new Hillel campus center that opened in August 2009.
“We appreciate Walt’s ongoing commitment to Jewish life, both at the University of Hartford and on campuses around the world,” says Hartford Hillel Foundation executive director Katie Roy.
“He is very supportive of Hillel and the work we do and thinks it’s important to the university as a whole. He’s really busy, but whenever we ask him to participate in a program, he does whatever he can to join us.”
For the last 10 years, Harrison and wife Dianne have hosted the annual Pesach seder, Hillel’s biggest event, which drew nearly 80 participants this year.
To underscore his support of the campus organization, Harrison appointed three university officers to the Hartford Hillel board: Dr. J. Lee Peters, vice president for student affairs; Kimberly Kennison, assistant vice president for finance; and Jennifer Keyo, director of the annual fund.
In honor of Harrison’s appointment, the Hartford Hillel Foundation board launched a special fundraising campaign. The first $36,000 raised will go to the Hillel annual fund and any additional funds will create the new Walter Harrison Endowment for Hillel.
Harrison is president of the board of the Hartford Stage Company and serves as trustee or director of a number of other greater Hartford-area organizations, including the Greater Hartford Arts Council, Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, the Connecticut Science Center, and Suffield Academy.
“Hillel International likes to have a college or university president on its board; I agree with them that we add a realistic perspective,” Harrison says. “I am succeeding Larry Bacow of Tufts University and Morton Schapiro of Williams College, now of Northwestern University. Both have left big shoes for me to fill. I will do my best.”