Inauguration Address

President Kumar delivered the following address at his Installation Ceremony on October 6, 2023:

Thank you, Peter.

Having never been inaugurated before, I didn’t know what to expect this week. Now I know—it is like being the groom in a traditional Indian wedding. You are important but most of it isn’t about you at all. It’s about everybody else at the wedding.

Occasions like today, marked as they are by high ceremony, serve several purposes. They allow us:

  • To celebrate a beloved institution and its community; 
  • To give thanks for all that has enabled it to be where it is today; 
  • To reaffirm the values it holds most dear; and 
  • To commit to the future and the necessary change it demands.

Let me begin by expressing my gratitude. First, to some key individuals who have each played a role in getting me up on this stage in the first place:

Peter Dolan and the entire board of trustees; along with the students, faculty, and staff who took part in the presidential search committee—thank you for the incredible faith you have placed in me to lead this wonderful institution. And thank you also to John Isaacson and your team for being so great to me throughout the process. I have a request for the search committee—stay away from the delegates from our peer institutions who are here today. I know how good they are, and I don’t want you getting buyer’s remorse.

I inherit a strong university today because of Tony Monaco’s and Larry Bacow’s successful tenures. Thank you for your exemplary leadership of Tufts but also your valuable guidance to me personally, which made my transition as easy as it can possibly be.

I owe a great deal to Johns Hopkins President Ron Daniels and Professor Mike Harrison who spoke today. I would be remiss if I didn’t also remember the past President of the University of Chicago, the late Bob Zimmer. They each took a chance on me when I didn’t seem the logical choice. They mentored me and let me know when I had messed up. And by example they taught me:

  • That good is never good enough; and 
  • That this drive to constantly strive to do better is not motivated by naked ambition but by a deep sense of responsibility towards the institutions and communities to which we belong.

Let me also take a moment to recognize and welcome the Mayor of the City of Medford, the Honorable Breanna Lungo-Koehn, and the Mayor of the City of Somerville, the Honorable Katjana Ballantyne. Thank you for warmly welcoming me to your cities and for being here this afternoon. I look forward to continuing to be good neighbors and strengthening the strong partnerships that my predecessors have built with both of your cities.

To our distinguished guests representing universities and learned societies around the country—welcome, and thank you for your partnership and well wishes.  

And to the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends, who together make up this big gathering: thank you for joining me today and for welcoming me into this diverse, vibrant community with such open arms.


Even before I began in July, I spent a fair bit of time attempting to figure out: what makes Tufts tick? I am an engineer after all.

I spent time at each of the campuses starting from right here in Medford and Somerville, to Boston’s Chinatown and the Fenway, and out in the heart of Massachusetts in Grafton; walked the hallways of each of the schools; popped my head into classrooms, galleries, labs, and clinics; snuck into sports games and musical performances; and scheduled as many one-on-one meetings as I could squeeze into my schedule.

As one would expect from such a multifaceted University, the conversations I had and the perspectives I heard were as diverse as the Tufts community itself. But every time I asked this question—what makes Tufts tick—there was one common sentiment that came up again and again: the belief that this is, truly, a special place.

I am a theorist and so cannot stop myself from formulating a hypothesis about why Tufts is special: I would like to posit that this is because Tufts is the only university that is both in the NESCAC and the AAU.

The typical New England Small College Athletic Conference school is:

  • Located in a small, idyllic town in New England; 
  • Small, with an average undergraduate enrollment of two to three thousand students; and 
  • A strong liberal arts school with a focus on the student experience.

The typical Association of American Universities school is:

  • Large, with an average student population in the tens of thousands, including undergraduate and graduate students;  
  • Often located either in, or near, a major city; and  
  • Has hundreds of millions of dollars (if not billions) in research expenditure.

Tufts fits into both categories—it possesses the tight-knit, student-centered qualities of the smallest NESCAC school, emphasizing a liberal arts education, while also producing outstanding professionals through its many schools, and carrying out world-class research. And at Tufts, “student-centered” and “research” do not come at the expense of each other.

The other ingredient in the secret sauce is the Tufts community. People who choose Tufts and thrive here are a unique breed. The true Jumbo is accomplished yet understated, earnest yet fun, does well while doing good. A Jumbo supports the herd and strives to engage all of society. A true Jumbo goes easy on the President—just kidding! A true Jumbo believes in the value that other members of the community bring to it, especially those who are less privileged, and strives to make the community more diverse and welcoming.

I commit unreservedly, whole-heartedly, to preserving and enhancing these essential values of the university. 


In keeping with the theme of this inauguration, I would like you to join me in beginning to “light the way” forward in our journey towards Tufts’ future.

To help you start to visualize what the path ahead might look like, I would like to share five broad themes—or pillars—that are of particular importance:

Educating responsible leaders for tomorrow. 

It is the goal of every university, but what does it mean for Tufts? It means recruiting the most talented and qualified students possible to each of our schools and retaining our commitment to inclusive excellence. Today, it is more important than ever to ensure that all students—from all backgrounds— can afford a Tufts education, and that we provide them with pathways towards social mobility and future success long after graduation.

It means educating our undergraduates well, but also equipping our graduate students to become responsible, effective leaders in their field. We must prepare the future doctors graduating from our School of Medicine to not only be excellent clinicians, but to also tackle growing health disparities through their understanding of economics and sociology. We need our Fletcher School graduates to understand the impact of the latest technology on world affairs. We must equip our Engineering graduates with the skills to comprehend the ethical and moral consequences of their inventions. And so on.

Providing transformative experiences. 

This is embedded in our mission statement, but what do we mean by “transformative” and how do we operationalize these experiences in practice?  

As a student-centered university, we need to foster an even stronger, more cohesive student community and create vibrant student life opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

And, as I mentioned in my Matriculation address to the incoming undergraduate class, we need to challenge students to venture outside of their comfort zones to deepen their knowledge and broaden their perspectives. Students arrive at Tufts with many different opinions and experiences, and may not always agree with each other on every issue. In today’s polarized society, the importance of embracing the tenets of free speech and free expression and doing so responsibly has become even more essential. It is our job to create spaces and opportunities for our students to learn how to actively, yet respectfully, engage with the different issues of our time and learn from their peers' varying perspectives. 

Expanding our research footprint.

How do we grow our research enterprise but also remain uniquely and distinctively impactful? In order to contribute more than our fair share to advancing knowledge and addressing the world’s pressing problems, we need to expand areas of knowledge where Tufts has a unique advantage. And we must prioritize research and scholarship that tackles important issues facing our society and the world—from food and nutrition, to climate change, to infectious disease, to threats to democracy here and around the globe.

Broadening our definition of what it means to be a student.

How do we increase access and the opportunity for a Tufts education to an even more economically diverse and non-traditional set of students? Undergraduate students are often the central focus of universities, but we need to widen our scope to include students at all stages of their life and career.

Giving back to the community and society. 

How do we both educate our students to give back to society and also perform the kind of research that serves national and global interests? Civic engagement is integral to Tufts’ mission, and we have a unique advantage in this area through Tisch College.

  • And we need to give back to the community in ways beyond activism:
  • By providing high-quality, affordable care at our Dental and Veterinary clinics; 
  • By engaging in applied research and experiential education programs across New England; and 
  • By being a helpful neighbor as we were during COVID.

Such work done well will indeed help make Tufts the light on the hill for our neighbors and not just for those who enter our doors.


Now, you’re probably wondering how we can achieve these seemingly lofty aspirations. We are a small school, after all.

We achieve by not being afraid to fail, and by making wise choices in the endeavors we undertake. But regardless of these choices and risks, investing in People—the students, faculty, staff, and alumni who make up our cherished community, and also investing in our Plant—the campuses, buildings, dorms, and facilities where we study, work, live, and play will be essential.

And, perhaps most important of all, we must not forget the unique advantage we have as a small school. For when we leverage the strength of our community and come together—across all schools, departments, and disciplines—the impact we can create, as one big herd, is truly massive. Yes, the pachyderm references in the speech are now done.


I have theorized at length to a captive audience. Before I end, I would like to quote the first President of Tufts, Hosea Ballou. (No—it’s not the one about the light on the hill.) He said, “Theories are always very thin and insubstantial, experience only is tangible.”

It is time to act. I consider this event the official end of my “honeymoon.” I am energized by the path that lies ahead, and I look forward to making Tufts—our special place—even greater, together.

Let’s get to work.

Thank you.