Picture of a plaque featuring Dr. Eleanor V. Harner

Honoring a Visionary: Dr. Eleanor Harner 

By Rose Audretsch, Senior Student Support Specialist

A visionary, a mentor, an encourager…these are the words that describe the legendary Eleanor Harner. Eleanor was a life-long educator, and the founding director of the internationally-recognized UA Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center. The program, which began with a handful of students, currently serves roughly 600. From its humble beginnings in the basement of Old Main, to its current home in the three-story Patricia A. Bartlett Building, the SALT Center has emerged as a leader in comprehensive academic support for students who learn differently. This organization owes all of its success to the incredible effort and vision of Eleanor Harner.

The year was 1980, and Eleanor was a tenacious employee who worked at the Student Counseling Center at the University of Arizona. She noticed the increasing needs of students who were diagnosed with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. With her extensive knowledge as a diagnostician in the field of learning challenges, Eleanor taught these students various learning strategies and offered tutoring support. Eleanor’s compassion and expertise enabled students to realize their potential by engaging in their own learning process. Her efforts promoted advocacy among students, and made instructors aware that not all students learn the same way. Eventually, Eleanor took this model of academic support and founded the SALT Program (which eventually became the SALT Center).

Word spread quickly about the existence of the SALT Program. Eleanor recognized the need to add more staff to work with the UA’s ever-increasing population of students with learning disabilities. However, office space was at a premium - operating out of the basement of Old Main, employees occupied hallways, closets, or any quiet place to conduct their tutoring sessions. Eventually, Eleanor realized that the lack of space was impacting her team’s ability to properly serve their students, so she decided it was time for a change.

In 1991, Eleanor spearheaded a capital campaign to raise funds for the construction of a new building to house the SALT Program. She rallied donors, families, and the UA community to make the campaign an overwhelming success. Two years later, when the SALT Program became an independent department known as the SALT Center, Eleanor stepped down as acting director and served briefly as the Director of Development before retiring from the UA. Although the SALT Center building (now named the Patricia A. Bartlett Building) was not completed until the Fall of 2001, Eleanor’s initial vision and perseverance brought it to fruition.

The SALT Center recognized Eleanor in 2012 at the Family Weekend Award Reception. A plaque with her name and likeness now has a permanent home on the entrance wall into the Patricia A. Bartlett Building. She was honored for all of her contributions to the SALT Center; since Eleanor was unable to attend, her daughter, Amy Davidson, accepted the award on her behalf.

Because of Eleanor, the SALT Center continues to thrive, serving more and more students every year. We have gained notoriety for our innovative research and practices in the field of learning differences. In 2013, the SALT Center was recognized in a new survey as an international model for academic support in higher education. None of these distinctions would be possible without Eleanor’s commitment to students with learning and attention challenges.

We were deeply saddened to hear of Eleanor’s passing on December 7, 2013. We are grateful to her for inspiring us to promote academic success for all students. In alignment with UA President Ann Weaver Hart’s directive of 100% engagement, Eleanor paved the way; she set an example for the way in which all constituents need to be engaged in the learning process at the University level. We are indebted to Eleanor for her compassion and commitment to all learners; her legacy shines brightly as we continue the fine work that she started. 

40th Anniversary Tribute to our founder, Dr. Eleanor Harner