By Ed Gold
Jane Maggin, a conspicuously unorthodox vice president at New York University during the hectic 1970s, who was in charge of student affairs, and served as key liaison between the university and the Greenwich Village community, died at her Village home on June 12 after a six-year battle against cancer. She was 64 years old.
At N.Y.U., she had a no-nonsense attitude, spoke in unladylike terms at times, often roamed the Village in dungarees, preferred to deal informally with students, and maintained a relationship with the community based on straight talk and transparency.
As head of student affairs, she was responsible for the school’s 25,000 students, had a staff of 500 full-time and part-time employees and an annual budget of $6 million.
After 13 years at N.Y.U., she served as acting president of Manhattanville College, then as a trustee at Convent of the Sacred Heart School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, helping on finance, management and organization.
Before and after service at N.Y.U., she was extensively involved in helping the underprivileged, working on Head Start programs, raising money in Harlem during the War on Poverty campaign, operating a rehabilitation center and creating housing for battered women. She also played a leading role in Hands Across America, a campaign to combat hunger in the mid-’80s.
At age 31, the youngest person and the first woman to be responsible for student affairs at N.Y.U., she had to deal with serious dormitory problems, including a student suicide from an overdose of barbiturates, and racial tensions at the Rubin Hall dormitory on Fifth Ave. She became known as the “resident madame” at the dorm during the crisis period. She spent three months wandering through dorm halls, listening to students and coping with the drug problem. She lived across the street from the dorm, which she would visit late in the evening, and would take students’ phone calls in the middle of the night.
As she told The New York Times in the mid-’70s, “It was some wild scene. The place had just bottomed out. It had to go up.”
Also responsible for community use of N.Y.U. facilities, she worked closely with Community Board 2 when the Coles Sports Center was being constructed along Mercer St.
N.Y.U. needed a zoning variance on the site and sought C.B. 2 support. In exchange, the university agreed to construct a modest dog run at Houston and Mercer Sts., and to provide community access to the sports center. Maggin delivered on the dog run, but was only able to get community memberships for weekend use, a university decision that upset her. She was also innovative, one example being the construction of tennis courts on the Bobst Library roof.
At Sacred Heart, she helped maintain the school’s landmark home at E. 91st St., and worked on developing the school’s financial strength. The school’s head, Joseph J. Ciancaglini, noted on her death that her importance to the school “cannot be overstated.” He added: “Our community has been truly blessed to have her gifts of wisdom, dedication and love for Sacred Heart.”
She also served as a trustee for 12 years at another Sacred Heart School in Greenwich, Ct.
Maggin had a business career, as well. She actually once ran a circus, and most recently was senior vice president for NOP World, a marketing research company.
She summed up her philosophy in an interview with The New York Post: “You have to close your eyes and fantasize. If you have ten items and seven of them are crazy — but three of them work — well, that’s something!”
Maggin was born in a hospital at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, the oldest of seven children. She earned degrees at Manhattanville and N.Y.U.
A divorcée, she is survived by a daughter, Alice Maggin, Alice’s husband, Wayne Nelson, their daughter, Lila Nelson, and a sister and four brothers and their respective families.
She remained on friendly terms with her ex-husband, Donald Maggin.
A memorial service was held for her at the Convent of the Sacred Heart on June 20.
Donations in her memory can be made to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the Encore Community Center in Manhattan.