After working hand-in-hand with multiple generations of students, Vice President for Student Life E. Royster Harper announced Sept. 12 she will retire in January from the place she has called “home” for more than four decades.

E. Royster Harper

“I am ready and excited for this next adventure,” Harper says. “With all of our imperfections, we’re the kind of place that works diligently to live into our values. Our university community truly believes in and is committed to excellence in all we do. Our mantra — leaders and best — is our aspiration for ourselves. I am proud to have been part of such an institution.”

Harper has been described by her University of Michigan colleagues as a transformative institutional leader during a period of great change in higher education and in the student population. 

“Dr. Harper’s impact is extraordinary,” says President Mark Schlissel. “As far as I’m concerned, she has set the standard for student life leaders in our nation.

“Throughout her career, including 18 years as vice president, Dr. Harper has worked tirelessly to enrich the lives of students, from their academic and career aspirations to their health and growth as individuals. She is passionate about helping all those around her reach their potential.”

Examples of Harper’s four-decade legacy can be found in every corner of the institution, from enhanced well-being and mental health services to culturally inclusive dining options.

Others include gender-inclusive bathrooms and residential spaces; reflection rooms and multicultural lounges; renovations of the Michigan Union, Michigan League and Recreational Sports facilities; expanded living-learning options; and the Blavin Scholars program for students growing up in foster care.

An alumna of U-M, she has served in her role as vice president since 1999. She is responsible for the collective services, programs and facilities that support all aspects of campus life, leadership and personal growth for more than 41,000 undergraduate and graduate students at U-M.

Previously, she served U-M as the senior associate vice president and dean of students, where she was recognized for her passionate advocacy and support for the student community and for the success of the individual.

In earlier positions, as assistant to the vice president for academic affairs and assistant to the dean of LSA, she led efforts to facilitate better integration of student experiences inside and outside of the classroom and to improve the quality of student life.

She’s led two phases of Residential Life Initiatives resulting in the construction of North Quad Residential and Academic Complex and the creation of the new William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center on Central Campus.

She guided Student Life’s first foray into the university’s Victors for Michigan campaign resulting in generating $50.8 million in scholarships, programming and facility donations.

Harper has been involved in a number of community activities, serving on the Ann Arbor Board of Education, the board of directors of the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum and the executive board of the Ann Arbor branch of the NAACP. She also has been actively involved in a number of professional associations and is on the board of several major organizations.

“My continuing hope for our engagement with students remains unaltered: That we create the spaces for learning and growth, with no life-altering mistakes and a healthy dose of self-discovered passion,” she says. “Thank you to all our students for representing the heart and hope of our institution.”

Schlissel will work closely with Harper to ensure a smooth transition and will soon share more details about a process to identify new leadership for Student Life. Students will be directly involved in the search process.

Harper earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from U-M and her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.