New School prez promises change and refocus

By Khiara Ortiz

David E. Van Zandt was officially installed as The New School’s eighth president on Sept. 15. It is a position he has been studying for since his arrival on Jan. 5.

Over 400 students, faculty, and staff gathered at the ceremony in the university’s landmark John Tishman Auditorium, where Van Zandt gave his inaugural speech.

“Today more than ever, higher education must continually reinvent itself to remain relevant,” Van Zandt said. “The New School is about change and seeks to equip its students for an unfamiliar and unpredictable future. I am proud to become the leader of a community that embraces that philosophy and look forward to collaborating with students, faculty and staff on defining the next great New School moment.

“From the beginning,” he added, “The New School has had a flexible structure that was highly entrepreneurial. The ‘New’ in our name refers not to youthfulness but to the fact that we are always pushing the envelope.”

A higher education veteran, Van Zandt served for 15 years as dean of the School of Law at Northwestern University, where he created an integrated three-year JD-MBA program and later introduced the Accelerated JD, allowing students to complete their law degree in two years rather than the typical three.

As a graduate of Yale Law School, where he was managing editor of the Yale Law Journal, and with a Ph.D. in sociology from the London School of Economics, Van Zandt is a more than qualified successor to ex-president Bob Kerrey, who served from 2001 to 2010.

“I don’t think there is a handy-dandy recipe for leadership success in higher education,” said Henry Bienen, president emeritus of Northwestern University. “Rather, I believe that leadership in higher education — and perhaps leadership everywhere — is time, place, task and context specific. The abilities and personal qualities that serve well in leading one university may not serve as well at another institution. However, there are some qualities that are givens or necessary in most situations: energy, courage, clear thinking, good humor, perspective and respect for diverse views and people. All these David Van Zandt has.”

Van Zandt hopes to “refocus the school on its founding principles and public engagement.” He also looks forward to meeting people in the Village and formally implementing the university in the community.

“I think The New School is in a great position to make a difference,” he said. “This is a very innovative and creative place.”