New School Board of Trustees Chairman Pays Tribute to President David Van Zandt for his Years of Outstanding Service to the University
On April 15th, David Van Zandt will step down from his nearly decade-long tenure as President of The New School. During that time, he has overseen a transformative period in the university’s 100-year history, elevating and connecting The New School’s unique strengths as the only university in the world with a large and comprehensive design school alongside strong social sciences, humanities, and the performing arts. New School Board of Trustees Chairman Joseph Gromek has worked closely with President Van Zandt for eight years, and recently sat down with New School News to discuss his accomplishments and legacy.
President Van Zandt’s last months leading the university have been focused on steering the campus through the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, but that’s far from the first crisis he’s faced. Gromek says Van Zandt’s temperament and strong management skills have been invaluable during challenging times including Occupy Wall Street, Hurricane Sandy, and a severe water main break that flooded the university’s buildings in 2014.
“David is one of the finest managers I’ve ever worked with and I’ve worked with many,” Gromek says. “Even now, in the final weeks of his presidency, he is fully focused on guiding the university through the unprecedented and extraordinarily difficult coronavirus situation. I think this speaks to David’s innate strengths during times of crisis. Throughout every difficult situation, his leadership allowed the university to successfully navigate all of the obstacles, and to come out in a place where we felt the best possible results had occurred.”
Being a leader that is able to handle a crisis situation with principles and a fundamental commitment to the university’s educational mission speaks to the qualities that Gromek says make Van Zandt stand out.
“He conducts himself in such a professional manner and with the highest degree of integrity,” he says. “David cares, he’s considerate, he has humility and is cool under pressure. On top of that, his attention to detail and his follow-up are extraordinary.”
Van Zandt was formerly dean of the Northwestern Law School and became the eighth president of The New School, succeeding Bob Kerrey, in January 2011. Gromek recalls that when Van Zandt took over, admissions applications and enrollment were both in decline.
After extensively studying the data, (he fondly refers to Van Zandt as a “data wonk”), Gromek says Van Zandt set about to articulate a vision and a strategic plan to amplify what made The New School truly distinctive—its unique combination of academic strengths, threaded together by a drive for innovation and engagement with the issues of our time. To advance an ambitious plan, he restructured the administration, recruiting a world class leadership team.
Gromek notes that one of Van Zandt’s biggest accomplishments during those first few years was focusing on an interdisciplinary and more integrated approach to education, and creating a more cohesive campus with all programs located in the heart of Greenwich Village.
The process to unify the campus began with the opening of the University Center in 2014, followed by moves downtown for Mannes (from 85th and Broadway) and the Parsons fashion program (from 40th Street and 7th Avenue), and the renovation of Arnhold Hall to become the home for the newly formed College of Performing Arts.
“Bringing these university programs together downtown really made a tremendous difference, making a significant physical imprint on the general public,” Gromek says. “Additionally he oversaw the construction of the Parsons Making Center, the last major construction project during his tenure. When that was completed, The New School had a new story to tell.”
That story was promoted through a branding and marketing campaign that helped drive increases in university enrollment and awareness. Gromek says balanced budgets and increases in fundraising and the university endowment followed.
Gromek recalls that Van Zandt also had a unique relationship with the Board of Trustees, getting to know each member individually to understand their interest in The New School, how they could become more engaged in university life, and how they could help support the university through philanthropy.
“Over the last eight years, David and I have developed a great relationship,” Gromek says. “He’s a friend as well as a colleague. Depending on the situation, we often speak several times a day. His professionalism and his desire to always do the right thing for students and the university first, really sets a very high standard in the way that he operates. I will miss the pleasure of working with David that way. The New School celebrated its centennial last year, and from David’s efforts over the last ten years, the university is now positioned for success and to excel over the next 100 years.”