Mixed Reviews for First Lang Dean Candidate
Nearly a year after the abrupt departure of former dean Neil Gordon, Lang is close to picking his replacement, as one of the final candidates for the position recently held several meetings with students and faculty to mixed reviews.
Victor Coelho, an associate provost and a professor of music at Boston University, met students and faculty on March 18 and 19. He is one of three final candidates vying for the deanship. The New School hired Isaacson, Miller Incorporated, a headhunting firm with extensive experience in academic leadership, to work with an 11-person search committee made up of university faculty and administrators. Together they drafted a set of qualifications for the job and courted potential candidates from across the country.
Coelho declined to comment for this article because the selection process is ongoing.
According to those close to the selection process, the provost’s office, which is coordinating the candidate’s visits, intended to complete all the interviews by the end of March, but they’re now likely to spill into April.
The other two candidates for the position have yet to be announced.
Those who attended the meetings with Coelho had mixed opinions about the candidate. Faculty were largely won over by his clear understanding of academic administration. Some students, however, felt that Coelho didn’t have an adequate understanding of Lang’s unique character. Seven students met with Coelho on March 19.
“I absolutely do not trust that this candidate has any sense of what Lang is, who Lang students are, and what makes our college unique,” wrote Sandy Fox, a Lang senior, in an evaluation of the meeting she also provided to the Free Press.
The student meeting was off the record to reporters.
Raviva Hanser, another student who attended the meeting, said Coelho was “just not Lang appropriate,” and that many of his suggestions for how to improve the college were too generic. “He had a poor understanding about what people at The New School appreciate about The New School,” she said.
Other students who attended the meeting felt that Coelho was amicable and understanding of the university. Most faculty and students who met with Coelho said that he can only understand the college so well given the limited time he’s had to research it.
“I think through his conversations he was gaining some understanding that there may be a small proportion of students here who are still ‘Lang-y,’” said Katayoun Chamany, a Lang science professor who attended one of Coelho’s meetings with faculty. “He gets Lang. He gets that Lang is eclectic. But he also recognizes that students everywhere need skills in critical thinking.”
“I like that he is a person of color,” Chamany added. “I like that he has provostial experience at undergraduate education instead of coming out of a chair or dean. He actually thinks more broadly, cross-divisionally. He seemed good.”
Gordon, the former dean of Lang, resigned in April 2010. Gordon had a contentious relationship with university administrators and many suspected that this was the reason for his departure. In the meantime, Stefania de Kennessey has acted as interim dean, but she is set to step down from the post when the next dean is appointed.
- Miles Kohrman contributed reporting.