New President Promises Change
On November 16, the New School Free Press had the opportunity to speak with incoming president David Van Zandt about what he has been doing during his transition between universities.
Since his appointment to the presidency of The New School, Van Zandt, the current dean of Northwestern University’s Law School, has flown back and forth between Chicago and New York City for about two days every other week, all in preparation for his new job.
He has met with trustees, deans, vice presidents and faculty. He hopes to work with what the university already has and build something better. With what has become his go-to talking point, he said his assignment is to pull everything together academically “so that we make a university that’s more valuable than the sum of its parts.”
Although Van Zandt said he has yet to meet enough people and see enough of The New School to have a precise plan of action, he does have a general idea of what he wants to do. “My big focus on coming in is on two things,” he said. “One’s quality. And that can mean quality of the students, quality of the faculty, quality of the services that we give to everyone here.”“The other,” he added, “is understanding where our students go, what their career paths look like and figure our how we can best design the programs and support them going forward.”
Van Zandt said that he wants to officially meet with student groups, but he has yet to do so. He wants to create more dialogue and level ground between students and staff. “My view is that we’re all adults, we’re all engaged in the same enterprise,” he said. “We each do something slightly different in the enterprise. We’re all working together in the same educational community.”
At Northwestern University, Van Zandt has weekly meetings with student leaders, and encourages this kind of communication. He hopes to regularly have students over to his university provided housing at 21 W. 11 St., just down the block from 65 W. 11 St. Back in Illinois, he and his wife are in the process of packing up their home of 25 years.
Usually people accept such a position based on an increase in salary, on which Van Zandt declined to comment. But he did say that his salary is competitive in the field, and he isn’t looking forward to his position because of financial incentives. “You don’t do this for the money,” he said. “If I wanted money I’d do something completely different.”
Van Zandt said that he is keen to work in a place that promotes the growth of ideas. “The New School is progressive. Part of what progressive means is change, embracing change in education and otherwise,” he said. “I think that people seem quite ready for that.”