Coatsworth served as Dean of SIPA for four years before being named Provost of Columbia University in 2012. He previously served as the Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs at Harvard University (1992 – 2007), where he was the founding director of Harvard's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and the chair of the Harvard University Committee on Human Rights Studies.
Prior to his work at Harvard, Coatsworth was a member of the faculty at the University of Chicago (1969 – 1992). Other academic posts have included visiting professorships at El Colegio de México, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the National University of Buenos Aires, the Instituto Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires, and the Instituto Ortega y Gassett in Madrid.
Coatsworth is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Board of Directors of the Tinker Foundation and numerous professional associations. He is the former president of the American Historical Association and Latin American Studies Association. Coatsworth has served on the editorial boards of scholarly journals including the American Historical Review, the Journal of Economic History, the Hispanic American Historical Review and other social science journals published in Britain, Chile, Germany, Mexico, Peru, and Spain.
In 1986, Coatsworth was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. He has served as Senior Fulbright Lecturer three times, with appointments in Argentina and Mexico, and has received numerous research and institutional grants from public agencies and private foundations. He has acted as a consultant for program design or review to numerous U.S. universities and foundations.
Coatsworth received his BA in History from Wesleyan University and his MA and PhD in Economic History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.