Meet the Provost

John McCarthy assumed the office of Acting Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs in July 2017, and he will become Interim Provost at the beginning of 2018. As the chief academic officer of the campus, he 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.

Provost McCarthy grew up in Medford, Massachusetts, receiving his BA from Harvard and his PhD from MIT. After spending four years at UT Austin and two years at AT&T Bell Labs, he joined the University in 1985 as an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics. In 2007 he was named Distinguished University Professor.

Provost McCarthy is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and several National Science Foundation grants, and he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Cognitive Science Society. His work as a linguist is in the areas of phonology and morphology – the study of the structure of sound systems and words – with a focus on the Semitic languages. He is best known in the field of linguistics for his research on Optimality Theory, a model of human linguistic knowledge based on ranked, violable constraints. A dedicated teacher of both undergraduates and graduate students, Provost McCarthy is a recipient of the University’s highest teaching award, and his former PhD students honored him with a Festschrift entitled Phonological Argumentation: Essays on Evidence and Motivation.

Throughout his faculty career, John was active in the UMass Amherst Faculty Senate and its councils and committees, eventually rising to one of the Senate’s top two leadership positions. He also served two terms as chair of his department. John entered upper academic administration in 2011 as Special Assistant to the Provost, with responsibilities that included encouraging interdisciplinary activity and formative assessment of academic programs. The following year he became Dean of the Graduate School, and for the past three years he has held down two administrative positions as Dean and as Senior Vice Provost of Academic Affairs.