Thursday, August 26, 2010

Northwestern Dean David Van Zandt to Become President of the New School in New York

Dean Van Zandt will leave Northwestern in December of this year, after a fifteen-year tenure.  I had actually been preparing a posting on "ten" transformative law school Deans over the last decade, and Van Zandt was going to be on that list.  I won't preempt everything I plan to say then, but will observe that very few law school Deans have stamped a law school with as clear an identity as Van Zandt did during his tenure.  It will be interesting to see whether his successor tries to change course or to build on the directions on which Van Zandt launched Northwestern over the last decade especially.

The New School press release is here.

UPDATE:  It would be hard for a journalist to get this story more wrong:

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.

One reason Van Zandt successfully imposed his vision on Northwestern's law school, and also drove so many of his top faculty off the first 5-6 years of his Deanship, was because he was autocratic.  Autocracy can have virtues, of course, but one thing this is not is appointing someone with a non-autocratic leadership style!

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