Tufts University Provost David Harris Named President of Union College

After six years of innovation and success at Tufts, Harris will lead the New York liberal arts college
Provost David Harris
Harris led the creation of the first university-wide strategic plan. “We want to be a place that’s high-touch, student-focused, but also a place for research innovators making a difference in the world with our scholarship,” he said. Photo: Alonso Nichols
February 20, 2018


David Harris, who has been provost and senior vice president at Tufts University since 2012, has been named the next president of Union College, a liberal arts college in Schenectady, New York. He will take up his new position at Union in July, and Deborah T. Kochevar, dean of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, will serve as provost ad interim during the search for Harris’ successor.

“Please join me in congratulating both Union, for making such an inspired choice, and David, for being recognized as a dynamic and accomplished leader,” said Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco.  “I know that David will bring to the Union presidency the same intellectual rigor, strategic thinking, and enormous energy that have benefited Tufts during his tenure.”

During his time at Tufts, Harris has been instrumental in shaping the institution’s academic enterprise, most notably by leading the process that resulted in the first university-wide strategic plan, the T10 Strategic Plan 2013-2023. That effort paved the way for Tufts initiatives such as the 1+4 Bridge-Year Service Learning Program; Bridge Professorships that span two or more schools; and the Data-Intensive Studies Center. It also served as a blueprint for the recently launched Brighter World: The Campaign for Tufts.

“The T10 Strategic Plan really set the course for my time here,” Harris said. There are two concepts, he said, that have encapsulated the Tufts academic perspective under his stewardship: the identity as a student-centered research university, and the strengths derived from the university’s unique constellation of schools. “We want to be a place that’s high-touch, student-focused, but also a place for research innovators making a difference in the world with our scholarship,” Harris said. And with the most urgent issues facing the country and the world hinging on subjects that lie beyond any one discipline, he added, the scope of Tufts’ undergraduate and graduate programs is ideally suited to tackling the challenges of today and of tomorrow.

Kochevar said Harris set an example that will inform her work as provost ad interim. “It has been a privilege to work with Provost Harris to build school strategic plans that share the vision for Tufts laid out in the T10 Strategic Plan he initiated,” she said. “Provost Harris has been engaged and accessible at each of the schools and has encouraged open communication and transparency. My goals as provost ad interim will be to continue those traditions and to work with President Monaco to support current initiatives and encourage cross-school partnerships and innovation in teaching and research.”

Among the other achievements of Harris’ tenure are the 2016 acquisition of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and the creation of the position of chief diversity officer and associate provost. Harris was also instrumental in appointing much of the university’s senior leadership team, including the deans of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy; the School of Engineering; the School of Arts and Sciences; Tisch College of Civic Life; the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences; and the director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.  “I’m really proud of the team that we’ve built,” Harris said.

Just one month after arriving at Tufts in July 2012, Harris invited the university community to join him in what would become an annual event, the Tufts Century Ride, a 100-mile bike ride connecting the three campuses in Medford/Somerville, Boston, and Grafton. Harris, an enthusiastic cyclist, took up regular exercise when he was 40 and working in the Obama administration as deputy assistant secretary for human services policy. On the road with faculty and staff, students, parents, and alumni, he said, “I had the kind of conversations that are hard to have when you’re wearing a suit and are in an office as provost.” 

Harris held regular office hours and breakfasts on all three campuses, but he enjoyed finding more creative ways to interact with faculty, staff and students. For instance, he once shadowed students at the veterinary school and learned what it takes to care for a horse in a confined space. And recently, in the midst of a national discussion about athletes and the National Anthem, he joined football players as they wrestled with what to do here at Tufts. “I watched as students from many different backgrounds came together to try and understand each other,” he recalled. “I was so proud to be at Tufts, where the students were doing something that should be simple and commonplace, but that is rare. It captured what a university ought to be—the student experience is not only in the classroom, but outside, meeting people from different backgrounds, learning from one another. At the end, you may have the same opinion, but you understand the people around you a lot better—or maybe you’ve changed your mind.”

Harris credits his partnership with Monaco for his successes at Tufts. “For a provost, the most important relationship you have is with your president,” he said. Monaco, in turn, lauded Harris for his efforts with the launch of Brighter World, the university’s most ambitious fundraising effort to date. Through his work with alumni, parents, and friends, Harris helped secure a recent $8 million gift from the James S. McDonnell Family Foundation for the establishment of the Institute for Research on Learning and Instruction.

“Tufts has a spirit that I love,” Harris said. “We’re all trying to achieve something together. You know people are all pulling for success.”