University President-elect Sunil Kumar tours campuses, speaks to students

University President-elect Sunil Kumar is pictured visiting a class at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts on Nov. 18. Alonso Nichols / Tufts University
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Tufts announced on Nov. 17 that Sunil Kumar will be the 14th president of Tufts. Kumar will succeed current University President Anthony Monaco, who has held the office for 12 years, beginning in July 2023. Kumar was welcomed to Tufts’ campuses on Thursday and Friday to celebrate the announcement and meet members of the community. 

Kumar is currently the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University and has previously served on the faculty of the University of Chicago and Stanford University. Kumar will be the first president of color at Tufts.

At an event on the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus on Thursday, students, faculty, administrators and other members of the Tufts community had an opportunity to meet Kumar in person. Peter Dolan (A’78, A’08P), chairman of the Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee, introduced Kumar and spoke on the committee’s reason for choosing him as president-elect.

“His leadership capabilities truly stand out,” Dolan said. “One of his references called him a ‘dazzling academic leader.’ He’s very analytical and thoughtful, and that plays over into his problem-solving approach. He is certainly a creative problem-solver who is able to synthesize lots of information…and apply it to whatever problem or issue or challenges he faces.”

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Kumar’s research background is in engineering and operations management, and Dolan remarked that Kumar’s interests span disciplines. In an interview with the Daily, Kumar discussed his approach to leadership in higher education and what makes the world of academia so special to him.

“I do bring a very analytical approach to university leadership,” Kumar said in an interview with the Daily. “My experience as an academic has taught me to realize how special the academic enterprise is. This is the world where people get to follow their curiosity … prepare future leaders, but also change society. It’s a great privilege that we all have within the walls of the academy. In that sense, as a professor, I came to understand that privilege very early on, and I see that as a true strength of the university that we should foster.”

In his address to the Tufts community at the event, Kumar expressed his excitement at receiving the opportunity to lead Tufts and named a few reasons why he is looking forward to taking on the position.

“There’s a lot to love and admire about Tufts,” Kumar said. “The emphasis on students; the outstanding undergraduate program and the emphasis on producing engaged citizens. The emphasis on people in general. The unique constellation of schools and … a firm belief that they indeed … are the light on the hill.”

In his speech, Kumar also discussed some of the ways in which he plans to continue and change Monaco’s legacy, noting that he has left “large shoes to fill.” In particular, Kumar emphasized that creating a diverse and inclusive environment will be a top priority in his work as president.

“I see my role as continuing to ensure that Tufts delivers on its responsibility with even more impact and momentum — that it is indeed the light on the hill — by making its education more affordable to educate an even more diverse and deserving set of future leaders, benefitting all parts of society through impactful research on key challenges, especially on challenges that are understudied, despite their importance,” Kumar said. 

In his previous work at Johns Hopkins, Kumar spearheaded a number of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice initiatives that helped to bring underrepresented voices to fields in academia. These include the Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative, which works to increase Ph.D. student diversity at Johns Hopkins.

“The university is best served by having a very diverse and inclusive climate,” Kumar told the Daily. “I see that as an important value, and it is because people have been inclusive that I have made it to this point as well.”

Students at Thursday’s event expressed their excitement about the announcement of the new president and noted that they are feeling good about the university’s choice. 

“I think he’s definitely qualified,” first-year Julian Kelly said. “[It] just makes me feel very comfortable with him coming in and replacing someone who’s been here for such a long time.”

Kelly and fellow first-year Piper Lange discussed issues they hope Kumar will address in his upcoming position as President. Kelly noted that he would like Kumar to divest the remaining money that Tufts has invested in the fossil fuel industry. Lange stated that she was curious how Kumar would handle Tufts resident assistants’ recent move to unionize.

In his address, Kumar said he hopes to build relationships with Tufts community members across campuses and fields and that he hopes his personal values will drive his decisions as he steps into the role of president.

“It’s always about the people,” Kumar said. “You should lead with your values. You should never lose sight of the mission of education, research and practice. And most importantly, you should never stop taking delight in the achievements of the people around you.”

Until July, Kumar plans to spend as much time as possible on campus, engaging with students and community members and immersing himself in Tufts’ unique culture.

“There’s no substitute for walking the halls,” Kumar said to the Daily. “Being on campus every day — it’s such a wonderful place. It’s almost magic.”

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