Puerto Rican University Founded by Seminary Alum “Will” Harris, Class of 1905, Celebrates Centennial in 2012
John William “Will” Harris was born in 1876 in Dripping Springs, Texas, where he grew up on his family’s ranch. As a teenager, he worked as a cowboy and a sheepherder until, in 1894, he felt a call to ministry. After receiving his B.A. degree from Park College in Parkville, Missouri, Harris attended Princeton Theological Seminary from 1902 to 1905.
In 1905, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and was assigned a pastorate in Pond Creek, Oklahoma. The next year he was reassigned to an evangelical mission in San German, Puerto Rico. Just seven years later, in 1912, he founded Inter American University (originally called Polytechnic Institute of Puerto Rico); it was just one room with one student. The institute, originally housed in a farmhouse, was coeducational, ecumenical, and racially integrated—the only school of its kind in Puerto Rico. By 1927 the school had an enrollment of 400 students. Harris served as president of the institute until his retirement in 1937, and he remained a member of the board of trustees until his death in 1956. He is buried on the grounds of Inter American University.
Today Inter American University is the largest private university in the Western Hemisphere, with eleven sites throughout the island commonwealth and 52,000 students. The university supports chaplaincy programs on all of its campuses, and undergraduate and graduate theological programs at the School of Theology in San Juan. The university’s oldest campus is in San German and is home to the historic steps of one of the school’s original buildings, which was preserved in honor of Harris.
In October 2012, Princeton Seminary is hosting delegates from Inter American University as they join in closing out the Seminary’s Bicentennial celebration. During their visit, a plaque in honor of Harris will be installed in Hodge Hall, where Harris lived when he was a student. The dedication will take place on October 25.