New provost

From baseball to cricket: a new provost brings a different perspective

Jamshed Bharucha, who becomes Tufts' new provost and senior vice president on August 1, is well aware that his predecessor, Sol Gittleman, is something of a legend. Gittleman has served as provost since 1980, a tenure thought to be the longest in American higher education. So at a Tufts reception not too long ago where both men were present, someone pointed out that Bharucha would have big shoes to fill.

Just how big were those shoes? Gittleman and Bharucha quickly compared notes, and it turns out they wear the same size shoeĐ8 1/2.

Jamshed Bharucha © Richard Howard

Bharucha laughed as he told the story, well aware that the man he is replacing is known, among other things, for his quick sense of humor. Sitting in his office at Dartmouth College, where he has been teacher, scholar, administrator, innovator and mentor for 19 years, Bharucha, 45, talked about how he sees his role at Tufts and offered a glimpse into his own background.

A welcome challenge
Bharucha said Dartmouth and Tufts are both small research universities that take undergraduate liberal arts education seriously. "Both offer a student-centered experience that is overseen by faculty members who are active scholars and researchers but who love to work with students."

But there are differences, too. "First and foremost, Tufts is urban, and Dartmouth is rural. Tufts has a significantly smaller endowment, so management has to be smarter and must involve finding strategic opportunities for the institution. I'll be moving from a well-resourced institution to a more tightly resourced institution. I welcome the challenge."

Bharucha said he decided to come to Tufts because "it is an opportunity to be in the number two position, working with a new president who is excited about taking the university to the next level. It will be a terrific experience to come to another institution and make a difference. Tufts has tremendous potential, but it has financial challenges that need to be addressed to realize that potential."

Interdisciplinary problem-solving
"I see the position as chief academic officer, the person who, with the president, oversees the academic mission of the institution╔I would hope the provost could set a tone for the academic expectations and vision for the institution as a whole. Tufts has strong schools that have a fair bit of autonomy, but the provost can be a catalyst for initiatives and opportunities that cross school lines. There is also a budgetary role as Larry Bacow has defined it. There are lots of calls on an institutional budget, and choices have to be made as to what gets funded and what doesn't. They are more than financial decisions. They are decisions about priorities."

Bharucha hopes to encourage and promote interdisciplinary programs. "This is not to diminish the role of the traditional disciplines, but to find meeting points to solve problems. Interdisciplinary contact, if done well, does not exclude the disciplines but takes full advantage of what they have accomplished."

Musician and scholar
Bharucha's own background is interdisciplinary in scope. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vassar College, he earned a master's degree in philosophy from Yale and a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard. At Dartmouth, he has taught both undergraduates and graduate students in courses ranging from introductory psychology to advanced subjects in perception and cognition. He received Dartmouth's Huntington Teaching Award in 1989 and has held the John Wentworth Chair in Psychological and Brain Sciences since 1997. Since 2000 he has served as the dean of faculty. He will not be teaching at Tufts during his first year but hopes that eventually, he will be able to return to the classroom.

Bharucha's research is in the field of cognitive neuroscience, and he is known for his work on how music is perceived. Cognitive neuroscience draws from the study of cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience and linguistics. Its goal is to understand the relationship between the brain and behavior.

His life and work have represented meeting points for cultures and disciplines. He was born in Bombay to an American mother and Indian father. His mother played the organ, and one of his childhood memories is that of wandering among the pews at the church where she played and listening to her practice. His father was an engineer. Bharucha grew up in Bombay, speaking mostly English, but he can also speak Hindi and understand Gujerati, a language spoken by his father's Parsi community, which originated in Persia.

"I've always been interested in music, and in my research, I use the music as a window into the mind, as an example of a human cognitive activity that helps us understand how the mind works."

A recent study of his entailed playing western and Indian music as well as spoken English and Hindi to Dartmouth student volunteers whose brains were scanned while they listened. Half the students grew up in the United States and half in India.

"The idea," Bharucha said, "is to see if there is any evidence of cultural learning in the brain. When you grow up in a certain musical culture, you are surrounded with sounds that have certain patterns, and the brain learns them automatically. The brain is good at looking for commonalities. People aren't aware consciously of characteristics of music, but through extended exposure to a musical environment, we have that knowledge in our brains, and the same is true for language."

The study is ongoing, but so far, Bharucha said, it is clear that with speech, there is a huge effect of cultural familiarity. When English was heard, there was much more activation of the temporal lobe of the brain in the American-born students as compared to when Hindi was heard. The Indians were familiar with both languages, so there was not much difference in brain activity. With the music, the effect was not so clear. The cultural difference in language is easily detectible, while cultural differences in music are more elusive, he said.

Bharucha is the co-developer of two software products for teaching, MindLab, a Macintosh program for picture-oriented experiments in psychology, and DartNet, which allows students to simulate how networks of neurons learn. Most recently, his post at Dartmouth has involved the oversight of 580 faculty members and 40 departments and interdisciplinary programs as well as Graduate Studies, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Center for Brain Imaging, the Humanities Center and the Rockefeller Center for Policy.

A farewell from Mendelssohn
One of his great loves is playing chamber music. Bharucha began studying violin at age 6 or 7 and plays in trios and quartets with friends. Each summer he attends a music retreat in Vermont where some 45 musicians gather and play chamber music all week.

He is looking forward to hooking up with some of those players from the Boston area when he moves to the Tufts campus with his wife, Shirley Mathews, who does interior design and space planning. Mathews lived in New York for five of the six years of their marriage, moving to Dartmouth a year ago so the couple could be together.

When his friends at Dartmouth asked what he would like as a goodbye gift, he said he wanted to play the Mendelssohn Octet. So a group of musicians gathered at his home for a farewell performance.

"I wanted to play the last movement really fast. It's difficult and fast, and I didn't play as well or as fast as I wanted," he said, laughing. "It's a very exciting and invigorating piece, and when it comes together, there is nothing like it."

While his predecessor is known for his love of baseball, Bharucha admits he only gets interested around World Series time. While he can hold his own in a softball game, he brings a perspective on a different national sport: He is a founder of the Dartmouth cricket team.