Interview by Yash Panchal
Dr. Jamshed Bharucha is currently serving as the Vice Chancellor-Designate at SRM AP. His role is to provide strategic vision in pursuit of excellence in education, research, and engagement, responding to the complex opportunities and challenges of becoming a globally recognized institution. He has held a variety of academic leadership positions, including President of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Provost and Senior Vice President of Tufts University, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Dartmouth College, where he became the first Indian-American to be named dean of a school at an Ivy League University.
Dr. Bharucha worked as a computer programmer at his father’s engineering firm while in high school. He came to the U.S. to attend Vassar College, where he majored in Biopsychology. He then went on to receive a Master of Arts in Philosophy from Yale University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University. He is a Distinguished Fellow at Dartmouth College, where his research and teaching are focused on education data science. He is President Emeritus of Cooper Union, a college located in Manhattan, New York City, having served as the 12th President of Cooper Union from July 2011 through June 2015.
Dr. Bharucha has received numerous research grants from the National Science Foundation in the U.S. and has been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He received the Distinguished Achievement Award from Vassar College, where he serves on the Board of Trustees, and the Pride of America award from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. He is also a recipient of various other awards and honors.
Dr. Barucha’s rich overseas education experience
All my experience has been in the US. I started as a professor at Dartmouth College, in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences. I rose to be Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences at Dartmouth, the first Indian-American to be appointed a dean of a school at an Ivy League University. After that, I went to Tufts University as Provost and Senior Vice President. Then I was President of Cooper Union in New York City. For the past two years, I have been back at Dartmouth, as a Distinguished Fellow. My field of research has been the cognitive neuroscience of music.
I love higher education because I want to advance knowledge through research and to share the spark of knowledge with students.
Overcoming the challenges as the VC
The most significant challenges I have faced were as an administrator. The higher you go in leadership, the more difficult are the decisions you face. Often there are no good options, and you have to choose the least bad option. Often people don’t understand why certain tough decisions have to be made for financial reasons, even if you are transparent and provide all the data.
I try to overcome challenges by reminding myself to do what is right, not what is popular
People who are not prepared to withstand opposition and protest should not take positions of leadership, because otherwise they just go with what is popular and the institution suffers in the long term.
Reasons that drove Dr. Barucha towards research
For me, there is nothing that matches the fulfillment of new scientific discoveries, or creating new scientific models. This work is pure, is judged by other scientists with objective criteria, and pushes the bounds of understanding. The scientific revolution, when coupled with principles of universal freedom and dignity, has enabled society to lift billions out of poverty and given them the chance to fulfill their potential.
Goals to achieve for SRM AP
The first goal is to make it learner-centered. In other words, to make the teaching process exciting for students, to give students the motivation, freedom, and tools to be actively engaged in their own education. Second is to make it one of the top research centers in India, recognized internationally as a world-class university.
Difference between the Indian education system and other countries
The Indian education system, unfortunately, has suffered for too long from an emphasis on rote memorization, passive acceptance of the word of authority, and a lack of creativity and intellectual risk-taking.
We need to make the system more dynamic so that students can follow and develop their intellectual passions, interact with professors, and learn to become independent thinkers
The system has been too narrowly focused on individual subjects, even though the most exciting advances in knowledge and creativity have occurred at the intersections of different subjects. We need more of a liberal approach so that undergraduates are challenged to stretch their minds in quite different subjects, learning how to think and communicate clearly in different modes, be they scientific, artistic or literary.
Ensuring quality in academics at SRM AP
Yes, quality will be our guide. We will solicit feedback from students, to make sure their educational experience is both challenging and rewarding, to make sure they appreciate the opportunities they are being given and to encourage them to pursue their dreams.
Establishing a healthy relation with the students
The best way is to make sure that each student feels individually engaged by their professors. Students thrive when they feel that their teachers take an interest in their development.
Research opportunities at SRM AP help in the growth of students
Doing research with professors is one of the best ways to learn. You learn by doing. This form of active learning is the most stimulating and enduring.
Leadership philosophy of Dr. Barucha
I try to listen and genuinely understand what others think. Then I try to distill what I’ve learned into fundamental principles that should guide decisions so that they are not arbitrary.
I analyze the options thoroughly with good data, and then make decisions that I feel are most justified
I also try to explain the decisions rather than just announcing them. Of course, not everyone will agree, but it’s important to share the data and explain the decisions anyway.
Advice to the current generation of students
Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. Follow your dreams, but make sure you educate yourself fully to maximize the likelihood of realizing those dreams. Look for mentors who support your aspirations, and avoid people who try to squash them.