Van Zandt Reorganizes University’s Senior Leadership
President David Van Zandt announced plans to reorganize The New School’s higher administration in a move that he hopes will bridge the divide between administrators and academics, a distinction that often breeds conflict within the university.
In an April 25 email to faculty and staff, Van Zandt announced that he is establishing two administrative groups that will routinely meet throughout the year. One, a “strategic group,” is made up of the provost, deans and various vice presidents who will convene once a month to discuss the overall direction of the university. The other, a “management team” comprised of only the provost and several administrators, will handle the day-to-day operations of the university and meet at least once a week.
Van Zandt said the reorganization is meant to accomplish three goals: to minimize the number of people who directly report to the president, allow administrators to have more access to more information from more areas of the university, and to foster more amicable relationships between administrators and academics.
In a May 2 interview with the Free Press, Van Zandt downplayed the significance of the changes, saying that aside from establishing two new meeting groups, it was primarily a change to whom various vice presidents reported.
When The New School’s board of trustees hired Van Zandt, they charged him with synergizing the university. Although it remains unclear to what extent the reorganization will affect relationships between the university’s departments, it indicates a serious attempt on Van Zandt’s part to break from his predecessor Bob Kerrey’s top-down approach, which often caused internal strife.
“I don’t really like to use the words ‘academic’ versus ‘administrative’ because that just sets the wrong tone,” Van Zandt said. “We’re all different abilities and functions within the organization. But we’re all trying to achieve the same thing, which is the education of students.”
Van Zandt said that when he first arrived at The New School, he invited the university’s senior leadership on a retreat. “My first goal my first week here was to get over that hurdle and to force them to be together, force them to talk to each other,” he said. “They have to work together because I told them, ‘Unless people work together, I can’t do my job.’”
Under Kerrey, the university’s seven vice presidents and handful of other administrators reported directly to him. Van Zandt said he found that style of leadership overwhelming and wanted to change it to something that was bettr suited to him.
Communication between administrators and academics and even between administrators themselves was poor under Kerrey. Many criticized Kerrey for making unilateral decisions and not communicating. Van Zandt hopes that this new structure will open conversations among the senior leaders.
“[When] something comes to my attention, I will liberally copy people on the leadership team,” Van Zandt said. “In other organizations — and I think it was somewhat true here — when somebody emailed the president, they wouldn’t copy anybody. So you don’t even know what the conversation is. If you’re not in that loop, you don’t have the ability to participate.”
Van Zandt said that he couldn’t foresee any shortcomings with the new senior leadership structure, but did say that should any complications arise, he is willing to change it as needed.
At their most recent meeting on May 3, the strategic group discussed the president’s ongoing “customer service initiative” and the many surveys the administration has conducted to get feedback from students, facutly, and staff on their opinions about the university.