Tufts Taps Cornell’s David R. Harris as Provost

David Harris
David Harris, Tufts' next provost. Photo: Alonso Nichols
March 28, 2012

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MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass.—Tufts University today announced that David R. Harris, senior associate dean at Cornell University's College of Arts and Sciences and a former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will become Tufts' next provost and senior vice president, effective July 1, 2012.

Harris, 42, is an expert on race and ethnicity, social stratification and public policy. In addition to his deanship, he has previously served as Cornell's vice provost, deputy provost and interim provost. He was associate chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Michigan before being recruited to Cornell in 2003.

"David Harris brings to Tufts an exceptional record of academic leadership and a distinctive range of experiences and expertise that will be invaluable as we chart a course that will position the university to address the great global challenges of our times. In both higher education and public service he has demonstrated extraordinary personal qualities and the ability to bring colleagues together in support of common goals," said Tufts University President Anthony P. Monaco, in announcing the appointment. "Equally important is David’s deep commitment to Tufts' core values, including active citizenship, access and our dual mission of teaching and research."

Harris will serve as Tufts' chief academic officer, with responsibilities that include schools on three Massachusetts campuses and multiple cross-school programs, centers and institutes.

"I feel a strong kinship with Tufts, from its founding traditions of liberal arts, social justice, practicality, inclusiveness and internationalism, to its contemporary commitments to access, enhanced research and strategic management," Harris said. "I'm excited by the chance to work with Tufts' energetic new president and dedicated faculty and administrators to build on Tufts' world-class status."

A Career of Firsts

Harris's career has been defined by a number of firsts. He became the founding director of Cornell's new Institute for the Social Sciences in 2004, launching several intellectual theme projects, seeding individual research projects, incubating a successful effort to attract external funding and adding new interdisciplinary courses to the curriculum. 

In 2005, Cornell Provost Carolyn (Biddy) Martin asked him to become the university’s first vice provost for social sciences. Harris worked with faculty and deans from across eight of Cornell’s schools and colleges to enhance social sciences, faculty recruitment, retention and resources as well as undergraduate and graduate learning and research. He also led a multi-institutional project in which faculty, staff and students from Cornell and area colleges examined challenges to diversity in higher education and recommended ways to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in college achievement.

Two years later Harris became Cornell's first deputy provost. This new position included acting as the provost's alternate, with particular involvement in admissions, financial aid, social sciences and diversity. He was also deeply engaged in fundraising and played an integral role in Reimagining Cornell, a university-wide financial and administrative restructuring effort. He held that position until 2010, also serving as interim senior vice provost for research, and as interim provost during the 2008 financial crisis.

Joining the Obama administration in 2010 as deputy assistant secretary for human services policy was "an extraordinary opportunity to apply my 20 years of academic work on inequality and social policy and my experience as a senior administrator to the critical issue of U.S. policy," Harris noted.

He returned to Cornell as a senior associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in the summer of 2011.

First-Generation College Graduate

In his message announcing Harris's appointment to the Tufts community, Monaco noted that "David's life and career testify to the transformative influence of higher education on individuals, their communities and the larger society."

Harris grew up in a working class neighborhood outside of Philadelphia.   Neither of his parents attended college, but generous financial aid enabled him to enroll at Northwestern University. There he earned a B.S. in human development and social policy in 1991, and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1997. 

Harris is the editor with Ann Chih Lin of The Colors of Poverty: Why Racial and Ethnic Disparities Exist and numerous journal articles. His work has been funded by the MacArthur Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Russell Sage and Rockefeller Foundations, among others.

He and his wife, Anne, have three daughters, ages 1, 12 and 14.

Harris will succeed Tufts Vice Provost Peggy Newell, who has served as provost and senior vice president ad interim since Jamshed Bharucha left Tufts to assume the presidency of Cooper Union in July 2011.

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university is widely encouraged.