Friday, January 25, 2008
Jonathan Veitch, Dean of Eugene Lang College, Will Step Down
For Jonathan Veitch, Dean of Lang, work can be rough.
His job, he said, is "75 percent" management. He runs a gauntlet of back-to-back meetings every weekday. He has to "block out scholarly time." He feels embarrassed that he has to tell his colleagues, "I write memos all day."
He usually does not leave the office until 9 or 10 p.m. His three kids complain that he does not spend enough time with them.
But at the end of June, after six months as Acting Dean and "four years of hard labor," Veitch will step down from his post. Neil Gordon, Chair of Lang's Writing Department, will take his place.
"I've accomplished what I've wanted to accomplish," Veitch said, during an interview in his office. "It's a different set of challenges now."
Thirteen faculty members, all full-time or tenured, were nominated as candidates for Dean, according to e-mails from faculty and staff about the search. Every nominee except Gordon declined the nomination. After meeting with faculty and reading Gordon’s mission statement, New School President Bob Kerrey and Provost Ben Lee decided to appoint him as Dean.
"Neil is a gifted intellectual, a superb teacher and a natural leader and manager," Kerrey said. "He also loves the college, has a great vision for its future, and has deep connections with New York City."
Gordon, a journalist and novelist who has taught at Lang for six years and has served as the Writing Department chair for four, is still working out the terms of his contract. He declined to be interviewed for this article, but he said that he will sign his contract on February 6. According to Kerrey, Gordon will begin serving as Dean on July 1.
Veitch entered his tenure as Acting Dean in Spring 2004, after the former Dean, Mary Rawlinson, suddenly quit—too overwhelmed, according to Kerrey, to continue. Kerrey said that he found Veitch to be an ideal candidate.
"[Veitch] pushes back when he thinks he's right and I'm wrong,” Kerrey said. “He's very smart and very talented, and cares deeply about the success of the college."
Veitch embarked on a mission to hire more staff and full-time faculty, connect with the city's "cultural institutions," start "civic engagement" programs and boost the college's international focus.
Since 2004, the college has hired 43 full-time faculty members, according to Assistant Dean Amos Himmelstein, and an adviser for every student class.
The school has created partnerships with major museums in the city. There are numerous study-abroad options. The college also started the I Have a Dream (IHAD) program, which holds acting workshops at an elementary school near a low-income housing project in Chelsea.
"Jonathan had the vision to reconnect Lang to what was always part of the school's original mission, and that was service and education," Cecilia Rubino, who teaches acting courses at Lang and helps run IHAD workshops, wrote over e-mail, referring to IHAD.
There is a new "civic engagement" director, Joseph Heathcott, who has $100,000 a year for the next five years, Veitch said, to develop programs that address prison reform, homelessness and immigration.
When the semester ends, Veitch will take a year-long sabbatical to work on his second book, about how once-pivotal American sites - like working-class Pittsburgh and the Nevada Test Site, where the U.S. government tested nuclear bombs - are memorialized, remembered and often forgotten. Then he will return to Lang and teach.
Veitch, a strikingly tall man of 48, with a calm voice and calculating manner, was born into a family of actors and grew up in Los Angeles. After he graduated from Stanford as an undergraduate, he said, he embarked on a quest to see America from the "inside-out." He worked on a dairy farm in Nebraska. He unloaded fish onto docks in Massachusetts. For two-month stints, he labored aboard a tugboat plying the Mississippi.
One day, a tugboat captain took away Veitch's copy of Mark Twain's Life On the Mississippi. "He said, 'If you've got enough time to read, you've got enough time to clean the bathroom,'" Veitch said. "He could tell that I had a college education, that I didn't need this job. So he kinda rode me most of the time. And when I got off, he handed me the book back. And this is a guy, I'm sure, who had never finished high school, had never heard of Mark Twain, if you can imagine that," he continued. "He said, 'You know, this guy Mark Twain really knows what he's talking about.' Wow, that's high praise—from a riverboat captain!"
After touring the United States for fifteen months, Veitch pursued a PhD in American Studies at Harvard. He moved on to teach in that field at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
During faculty meetings at Madison, Veitch got a taste of what university administrators were like: "They sounded kind of windy to me," he said. "Full of clichés."
After serving as Lang's Dean, he said, he can relate.
"You don't have time to think," he said. "You don't have a few hours a day—'Should I do this? Should I do that? Let me read about this before I…' None of that. So eventually there's no gas in the tank and you end up, sort of, you know, being a functionary," he continued. "I think that's the risk of these jobs, even if you start out with a lot of energy and vision."
But overall, Veitch suggested that his tenure went better than he expected.
"When I became Dean, I was told that my job is to find artful ways to say 'No' to people, so you don't alienate them," he said. "The happy circumstance of this last four or five years is that I've been able to say 'Yes' a lot."
This article appears in Tuesday's issue of the New School Free Press. Photo courtesy the New School.