Our encounter with The New School began with an invitation to a reception at the residence of the University President, David Van Zandt. A bronchial illness prevented me from attending so I wrote out my questions which he graciously responded too.
Q: What was President Van Zandt’s image of The New School when he first took the job?
When I first arrived at The New School, I strongly believed that the world today needs creative problem solvers who want to harness their talents and scholarship to make the world a better place. I knew that The New School was positioned better than any other university to provide its students with a different kind of education – one that emphasizes effective citizenship in a world that is changing dramatically.
Q: How has that image changed?
A century ago, The New School’s founders set out to create a new kind of academic institution that would bring together scholars and citizens interested in questioning and debating the most important issues of the day. Since then, the university has continually reinvented itself to be at the frontier of higher learning. Today, my commitment to the university’s mission is stronger than ever, and I am proud to lead the premier university for a world that increasingly demands innovation and rewards creativity that solves problems and transforms lives.
Q: What does he see as the greatest strengths of The New School?
The New School prepares students for a changing global economy that seeks and rewards creative, design-driven solutions for complex problems.
With our particular strengths in design and the social sciences, we are well positioned to meet these challenges. Problem-solving, in the end, is a social endeavor that requires a deep understanding of human behavior. The New School is the only university in the world with a top-ranked, comprehensive design school integrated with strong research-based social sciences, humanities, performing arts, management, and policy programs.
We attract students and faculty, who are “engaged innovators”—individuals with tremendous creativity and flexibility and the drive to make the world a better place.
And finally, The New School nurtures and develops students’ ability to solve complex problems within real-world constraints by developing their capacities in areas such as risk tolerance, collaboration, multi-modal communication, and the ability to synthesize vast amounts of information and feedback to prototype solutions. A big part of this is our emphasis on project-based learning. Our faculty challenges the students to design solutions to real-world problems—whether in the studio, small classrooms, or by immersing our students in companies, NGOs, and government agencies in NYC and cities around the world.
Q: What needs to be improved?
The landscape for higher education institutions is changing dramatically. Costs have soared to a point that is not sustainable. Students need education that is more accessible, flexible, and relevant, especially in a world where career paths are vastly different than they were a generation ago. We have a serious responsibility to be more innovative and adapt.
Q: Where should the university go in its next century?
As we celebrate our Centennial, this is a moment to reflect on what has come before and to imagine what we can accomplish in the next 100 years. We are initiating a university-wide process to look over the horizon and consider the disruptions to and opportunities for higher education, as well as generate ideas about our future as a university that continues to embrace change.