Photo by Matthew Sussman
David E. Van Zandt is no stranger to the New York region. Born in Princeton, he grew up in Central New Jersey and attended Hunterdon Central Regional High School before returning to Princeton for his BA in Sociology. But the ardent Yankee fan, who was just named The New School’s eighth president, did not always have a positive association with the city.
I had an uncle who lived on Park Avenue. Every year, he would give my siblings and cousins and me clothes for Christmas. For the boys, this generally meant suits. Scratchy wool suits. We’d come into the city, visit with Uncle Malcolm and Aunt Bremner, and go to Altman’s to be fitted. I hated this because I couldn’t stand the way the fabric felt. Finally they came up with the idea of the cotton lining, solving my fear of New York once and for all.,
Even now, Van Zandt is more comfortable with his sleeves rolled up than in button-down finery. His preference for informality extends to his demeanor, which is low-key and approachable. And his affection for New York has transcended his boyhood association with coarse fabric. Today he’s all about The New School.
The New School is a great New York institution with great aspirations. I’m going to lead an extremely energetic and exciting place, open to innovation and change, which is not true of many universities. And New York is open all the time, whereas other cities close down.,
Van Zandt, 57, assumes the presidency on January 1. He comes to The New School from Northwestern University’s School of Law where he has been dean since 1995. In his 15-year-tenure, Van Zandt’s visionary leadership transformed the school into a top-tier institution known for academic quality, research-intensive faculty, and student engagement in social issues.
He believes there are similar opportunities to make a difference at The New School. One of the big attractions for me is the university’s long history of progressivism in many areas, including education. The New School has an opportunity to address some of the major problems of higher education: accountability, providing value, and learning outcomes. And we must provide education that is relevant to the world in which our graduates will live, and someday, lead.,
For that kind of transformation to succeed, Van Zandt recognizes that you need students with an edge, the kind who choose to come to an unconventional university.
I’m fascinated by New School students, fascinated by their choices. I can tell already that New School students have a little bit of a bite. Students who elect to come to the heart of New York City are adventurous. They’re going to be more entrepreneurial, better able to take care of themselves, and better able to take advantage of what New York has to offer.,
He sees the same traits in the university’s faculty. My sense is that they’re high energy, very creative, and oriented towards outcomes in their own work and their work with students. Faculty who want to push their students towards making important contributions are very attractive to me.,
Van Zandt admits he has his work cut out for him over the next few months. In addition to completing his service to Northwestern, he will become a student of The New School’s legacy and its challenges, and will seek out opportunities for the university to become a leading voice in the future of higher education.
I’ve spent a lot of my life in classrooms and love being a student. And now, I’ve got plenty to learn. In the next six months, I hope to meet as many students, faculty and staff as I can, getting a handle on understanding the parts of the school that are new to me.,
At Northwestern, Van Zandt became an outspoken brand ambassador, he wore a touch of the school color, purple, every day. How will David Van Zandt embrace The New School’s colors?
To tell the truth, I’m in a bit of a quandary. As I understand the color palette, it’s red, orange, and yellow, a little tough to find in most men’s clothing. Now, if there were some students who wanted to design something for me, I would certainly entertain the idea.,
Note to prospective designers: may we suggest an orange lining?