Tufts extends its presidential tree

The Boston area is well known for its wealth of top colleges. But when it comes to producing college presidents, Tufts University has enjoyed a remarkable run of success.

This year alone, Harvard University, Hampshire College, and Union College have all named presidents with connections to Tufts.

Lawrence Bacow (above), Tufts’ president from 2001 to 2011, will become Harvard’s president, while Miriam Nelson, a health and nutrition scholar who worked at Tufts for more than 30 years, will assume the presidency of Hampshire College in Amherst. David Harris, Tufts’ provost and senior vice president since 2012, will become president at Union College in New York.


All three will start their positions on July 1.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

John Isaacson, the chair of Isaacson, Miller, an executive search firm that led the presidential searches for Hampshire and Union colleges, said it was “exceptional” that all three presidents had worked at the same university, since the searches were “widely dispersed.”

“These searches are national and sometimes international,” Isaacson said. “Only one person gets these positions. Three presidents emerging from a relatively small place is a surprise.”

Harvard conducted its search independently, Isaacson said.

Isaacson said that Tufts is an attractive place to recruit from because of its selectivity, and its dual strengths as both a liberal arts college and a research university.


Other college presidents — current and former — with Tufts ties include:

  Joanne Berger-Sweeney, a former dean at the Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences, became the president of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. in 2014.

  Kathleen McCartney, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree of science from Tufts in 1977, became the president of Smith College in Northampton in 2013.

  Karen R. Lawrence, who received a master’s in English from Tufts, was the president at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, for 10 years before stepping down in 2017.

  Katherine Haley Will, who received her bachelor of arts from Tufts in 1973, served as the president of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania from 2004 to 2008.


  Joseph Polisi, who received a master’s degree in international relations from Tufts, has been president of The Juilliard School since 1984. He will step down from that position this month, according to a release from Juilliard.

  Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley, who received a master’s degree from Tufts, is president of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

  Taylor Eighmy, who received a bachelor of science in biology from Tufts, is president of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

  Charles A. McCallum Jr., who graduated from the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, was the president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham from 1987 to 1993.

Thomas Oide can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thomasoide.