March 28, 2012
Dear Members of the Tufts Community,
I am delighted to share with you the news that David R. Harris, the Cornell University sociologist and senior associate dean of its College of Arts and Sciences, will join Tufts on July 1 as the university’s next provost and senior vice president.
David’s distinctive range of experiences and expertise will be invaluable as we chart a course that will position Tufts University to address the great global challenges of our times.
He has an exceptional record of scholarship and academic leadership at Cornell, one of this country’s great research universities. He is committed to the core values that define Tufts as an institution of academic excellence and global impact, including active citizenship, access and diversity.
David’s life and career testify to the transformative influence of higher education on individuals, their communities and the larger society.
He grew up in a working-class neighborhood outside of Philadelphia, and was the first in his immediate family to attend college. He holds a B.S. in human development and social policy and a Ph.D. in sociology, both from Northwestern University. He served on the faculty of the Department of Sociology at the University of Michigan for seven years before being recruited by Cornell as a professor of sociology in 2003.
David’s tenure at Cornell has been defined by a series of firsts. He was the founding director of Cornell’s Institute for the Social Sciences, established in 2004 to foster collaborations among social scientists across disciplines and to engage the larger Cornell community in substantive discussions about the leading issues in those disciplines. David’s own research and scholarship apply theories from sociology, economics and psychology to examine issues such as social stratification, residential mobility and racial and ethnic disparities in socioeconomic status.
He was appointed Cornell’s first vice provost for social sciences, in 2005, and its first deputy provost, in 2007. He also served as interim provost upon the departure of Provost Carolyn “Biddy” Martin in 2008. As vice provost, David was charged with augmenting the social sciences across the university, including enhancing the learning and research environments for undergraduate and graduate students. He also led a multi-institutional project that examined challenges to diversity in higher education and issued recommendations for eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in college achievement.
In his role as deputy provost, David assumed leadership for a number of Cornell’s strategic priorities, including admissions, financial aid and stewardship of key donors. He also advocated for significant changes in Cornell’s financial aid policies, to expand funding and reduce the debt that students carry upon graduation.
In 2010, David was invited to join the Obama administration as deputy assistant secretary for human services policy in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Analyzing federal policies that affect the well-being of Americans—particularly those related to poverty—gave him the opportunity to apply his own scholarly expertise for the common good. The Colors of Poverty: Why Racial and Ethnic Disparities Exist, a book he edited with Ann Chih Lin, argues that poverty in the United States is not caused by a single circumstance, but rather by a cascading series of events over a lifetime. He left government service and returned to Cornell in 2011.
David and his wife, Anne, and their three daughters are looking forward to becoming part of the Tufts community.
I want to express my deep appreciation to the members of the Provost Search Committee, led by Vali Nasr, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School, for their diligence in conducting a rigorous national search that resulted in the appointment of David Harris.
I am also most grateful to Peggy Newell, Tufts’ vice provost since 2004, who has served as provost ad interim since last July. Her thoughtful counsel, collaborative working style and broad institutional knowledge have been invaluable.
Please join me in welcoming David Harris to the Tufts community.