Dean From Northwestern Picked to Lead New School

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The trustees of the New School, an eclectic university in downtown Manhattan, selected David E. Van Zandt, dean of the Northwestern Law School, on Thursday to be its eighth president.

Dr. Van Zandt, 57, will replace Bob Kerrey, a former Nebraska senator and presidential candidate, whose nine-year tenure was characterized by a huge expansion of the university, but also by student sit-ins and criticism from the faculty over what his detractors said was an autocratic leadership style.

Mr. Kerrey, who will be 67 on Friday, announced in May 2009 that he would step down when his contract expired in July 2011. He will instead stay on through the end of December 2010.

The contrasts between the two leaders are immediately apparent. Dr. Van Zandt is an academic, not a politician, and has a reputation for driving change through low-key, data-driven discussion and consensus. Mr. Kerrey is the first to admit he loves controversy and welcomes passionate debate.

Dr. Van Zandt will be charged with further integrating the disparate pieces of the New School, which has eight academic divisions, including the well-known Parsons the New School for Design and the less-known Eugene Lang College the New School for Liberal Arts. (Among the things Mr. Kerrey was criticized for were those awkward names, part of a branding effort in 2005 that aimed to improve cohesion. Indeed, Dr. Van Zandt said that when he was contacted about the job, he did not know Parsons was part of the New School.)

Mr. Kerrey centralized much of the university’s administrative and operational functions, but said there was still work to be done to integrate the academic divisions. “It is no longer is a confederation, though there are people who think it should be,” Mr. Kerrey said Thursday.

Michael J. Johnston, the chairman of the board of trustees, said the search committee and board were attracted to Dr. Van Zandt’s record of change at Northwestern. “He stood out as a person of balance — not only an academic and someone who loves order and process, and not only a teacher with a passion for learning, but someone who spent 15 years as a really good agent of change at Northwestern.” Mr. Johnston said.

He said the search committee was originally concerned that Dr. Van Zandt’s leadership experience — at a law school — was too narrow, but as the interviews progressed, it was clear he had the breadth they sought.

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