Katherine Newman

Interim Chancellor for UMass Boston; Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and International Relations (UMass Presidents' Office); Torrey Little Professor of Sociology

Katherine S. Newman assumed the office of Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs in the fall of 2014. The chief academic officer of the campus, she provides leadership for the mission of the university in education, research, service and the impact of UMass in the community and the state of Massachusetts.

Newman is a native Californian and the beneficiary of a fine public education from beginning to end. She completed her undergraduate degree in philosophy and sociology at the University of California San Diego in 1975, where she was elected the salutatorian of her graduating class. In her years as an undergraduate, she became interested in American Sign Language and joined a special research lab investigating the linguistic and psychological properties of this visual language at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. It was this interest in language and culture that led her to the Language-Behavior Research Laboratory in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, an interdisciplinary institute combining the study of semantics, cognitive anthropology, and psycholinguistics. Ultimately, however, she changed fields and completed a dissertation on the evolution of dispute settlement systems in pre-industrial societies.

She completed her PhD in 1979 and began her teaching career in then newly-formed PhD program in jurisprudence and social policy in UC Berkeley’s Law School, Boalt Hall. Joining a faculty in one of California’s leading law schools provided an opportunity to learn about the culture of professional training and the importance of research in the public interest. It was during this time that she launched one of her main lines of research on the impact of economic downturns, the subject of her second book, Falling From Grace: The Impact of Downward Mobility on the American Middle Class.

In 1981, Newman moved east to join the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University where she was tenured in 1989. She spent 16 years at Columbia and published a number of books focusing on poverty including No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City, which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and the Sidney Hillman Prize. Her research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, Rockefeller and the WT Grant Foundations.

Columbia also provided an opportunity to engage in faculty governance. Newman was one of the founders of the newly formed Faculty of the Arts and Sciences and served as its chair and hence a member of the Planning and Budgeting Committee consisting of the deans and the vice president for the arts and sciences for several years.

After a year’s fellowship at the Russell Sage Foundation, she moved to Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1996 to join a remarkable group of scholars interested in problems of poverty. Together with colleagues in the departments of politics, economics, and sociology, Newman founded the Multi-Disciplinary Program on Inequality and Social Policy, which was supported for a decade by a National Science Foundation IGERT grant. This interdisciplinary and multi-school doctoral program enjoyed remarkable success and continues to this day to produce some of the most talented young scholars in this field. Integral to it was a network of domestic experts on inequality who visited Harvard as individuals on a weekly basis and annually for a major conference, which helped the program become a national institution and center of scholarship on inequality.

In 2000, Newman became the founding Dean of Social Science of the newly formed Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Working with her fellow deans, she launched a unique program of exploratory seminars that enabled faculty to pull colleagues together from around the world to brainstorm about new research ideas and to form working groups that evolved into advanced seminars if the ideas “had legs.” These included working groups on the political impact of immigration and the subconscious aspects of discrimination. During this same period, she launched a project with her doctoral students on rampage shootings, a problem that exploded into national awareness with the tragedy at Columbine. Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings was the volume that resulted from this two-year study, begun at the request of Congress.

Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and department of sociology were her home from 2004–2010. During this time period, Newman created a second social policy program, this time including social psychology and decision science as well as political science, economics and sociology. She brought the domestic network on inequality to Princeton and enlarged it to include scholars in Ireland, England, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, India, China, Japan and South Korea. Several edited volumes on inequality, discrimination, and education around the globe resulted from the annual conferences of this network. Given her increasing interests in international problems, Newman became the director of Princeton’s Institute for International and Regional Studies and expanded its “Global Seminar” program for undergraduates. These courses took Princeton students and faculty to Vietnam, China, Italy, Ghana, Poland, Japan, Argentina, Russia, and many other countries for six-week seminars taught collaboratively with faculty from host universities.

In 2010, Newman became the James Knapp Dean of the Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, responsible for 22 academic departments and 10 interdisciplinary programs at the doctoral and bachelor’s degree level. She also supervised the Advanced Academic Programs division, 18 master’s degrees with an active online presence all over the world. She led a two-year strategic planning process at Hopkins, involving two-day “futures seminars” in every department that brought experts from around the world together to debate the cutting edge topics and intellectual challenges likely to dominate each field. She increased dramatically the contribution of the arts and sciences to undergraduate financial aid, boosted the graduate student stipend to competitive levels, created a new sabbatical system that incentivized additional concentration on undergraduate education while doubling paid leave for the faculty, and created the “Academy at Hopkins,” an institute for advanced study for the retired faculty.

Under her leadership, the “Gateway Science” initiative engaged faculty in new and innovative approaches to introductory science courses and the construction of a stunning new teaching lab for neuroscience, chemistry, biology, and biophysics was completed. Newman launched initiatives in the arts, breaking ground on an “arts campus” in a distressed neighborhood of Baltimore, and opened the first social policy program for undergraduates in the U.S., moving students to Washington D.C. to study federal issues of importance.

Throughout her career, whether as a full-time faculty member or an academic leader, she has remained an active scholar, completing 12 books and five edited volumes dwelling both on issues of poverty and policy (for example, her 2011 book Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged) and international topics (including her 2014 book After Freedom: The Rise of the Post-Apartheid Generation in Democratic South Africa). Newman believes that the marriage of leadership and scholarship is both possible and desirable for the way it brings the administration and the faculty together in the common pursuit of knowledge for the world. She expects to continue this blend of responsibilities as provost and professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Accordingly, her most recent book — Learning to Labor in the 21st Century – was published in 2016 and focused attention on apprenticeship and technical education to prepare a highly qualified workforce. She is now immersed in her next book project, Downhill from Here, which explores inequalities in retirement and the consequences of pension erosion for older Americans.

Newman is married to Paul Attewell, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, an expert on the sociology of higher education and more recently applications of “big data” to this field. They have two grown children, Steven Attewell, an adjunct assistant professor in the Murphy Institute Labor program in the City University of New York, and David Attewell, a doctoral student in political science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.