COLLEGE PRESIDENTS' SERIES
Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, President, The Cooper Union
Some people may not know or remember the full name of Cooper Union, the world-renowned higher education institution for engineering, architecture and technology, located in Lower Manhattan. It is The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. They may not also recall that the inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper established the college in 1859, the year that the great scientist, humanist and writer Charles Darwin published his groundbreaking evolutionary treatise, “On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection.” It was a time, then, when “science” was part of Natural Philosophy and when intellectual inquiry embraced analytical and aesthetic disciplines.
For Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, who will assume the presidency of the Cooper Union this July, the full name of the college not only reflects the multidisciplinary ideals of its founder, but, Dr. Bharucha believes, invites interdisciplinary and global enhancement of the school’s mission — “taking it to the next level” — in ways that Peter Cooper would have approved. Archival records, which the new president is enjoying reading, show that in emphasizing both art and science as essential to higher education, Peter Cooper “was ahead of his time.” Dr. Bharucha also believes that encouraging philanthropic support for the school’s continuing curricular innovation is important even though Cooper Union has the enviable distinction of being the only free institution of higher education in the city. Philanthropy, a distinctively American enterprise, he points out, carries on Peter Cooper’s belief in meritocracy and passion for social justice, and it will be most welcome as the college moves to implement “vibrant” new curricula, especially in the area of technology.
Last year, 3,354 students applied for a freshman class of 214, making the Cooper Union one of the most selective colleges in the country. Sure, free tuition is a motivating factor in applications and historically a “cherished aspect” of the college, but it is not the main reason students want to come to the college, Dr. Bharucha says. Cooper Union’s reputation for providing cutting-edge learning and career opportunities, not to mention fostering small classes and close student-faculty relationships, makes it particularly desirable. Many architectural and engineering firms are increasingly taking on projects in China, India and Africa, and graduates of the Cooper Union are educated to address those needs not only with skills, but with cultural sensitivity.
For Dr. Bharucha, Peter Cooper’s dedication to ensure that the best and brightest could pursue higher education without being hindered by financial need has special resonance since the 54-year-old new president came to the United States from India at 17 to attend Vassar College on a full scholarship. But Dr. Bharucha also feels personally attached to the founder’s attention to art and science. A scholar with impressive research credentials in neuroscience, he is also an amateur violinist. Before coming to Cooper Union, Dr. Bharucha was provost and senior vice president of Tufts University where, significantly, he served on the faculty of three academic departments – music, psychology and neuroscience. He talks as easily about computer technology as about the last movement of Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, which he hopes will be performed at his inauguration.
It’s easy to imagine that the amiable present-elect will follow in the footsteps of his mentors, among whom he lists, professionally, the late James O. Freedman, the 15th president of Dartmouth, who, Dr. Bharucha says, was unstinting in his “selfless advice.” Personally, and with loving reference, Dr. Bharucha also cites as major influences his parents – “flaming intellectuals and idealists” – his mother was a musician, his father the first engineering designer in his region in India to incorporate computers into his work. Dr. Bharucha would, indeed, integrate his rich and varied inheritance as president of the Cooper Union.
American universities are still the world’s leaders in research and especially in valuing the place of imagination and creativity in spurring innovation. For all the “misperceptions” in media reports that China and India “will eat our lunch in the global economy,” Dr. Bharucha points out that Eastern countries look to America as a model for what higher education can be in providing a “broader perspective” in which to develop advanced skills in math and science — the legacy of the founder, the aspiration of the incoming president. #