Embattled Vice President Resigns
For the first three months of his term, President David Van Zandt listened. He met with students, faculty and staff to learn the challenges facing The New School. Now, he’s ready to act.
And Jim Murtha, the university’s embattled executive vice president, has cleared the way for the new president. At the end of March, Murtha quietly stepped down in the first move in an organizational shuffle that will reshape The New School’s higher administration.
Van Zandt hasn’t outlined the specifics of the plan, but told the Free Press that he would make an announcement soon.
Murtha, who has served as vice president for 13 years, will remain at The New School as a special advisor to the president on the forthcoming University Center. Van Zandt will also continue to work with Murtha on several projects to be determined in the coming weeks.
According to Van Zandt, Murtha told him that he wanted to move on.
The Free Press was unable to reach Murtha by press time.
“[Murtha’s] expertise on many strategic issues the university faces, his service to three presidents, and his knowledge of higher education in general and The New School in particular, are extremely valuable,” wrote Peter Taback, New School’s director of communications, in an email to the Free Press.
On March 10, Van Zandt unveiled a university-wide “Service Improvement Initiative.” He said that he hopes to streamline the university’s bureaucracy, which falls under the purview of the executive vice president.
Van Zandt said that the decision wasn’t directly correlated to his initiative, but “It’ll certainly help with that.”
It’s unclear to what extent Murtha’s departure will aid Van Zandt’s initiative. Faculty, who have long had a contentious relationship with Murtha, will likely appreciate the symbolism of his departure. “Just the way there was a whole bunch of students for whom Bob Kerrey was the source of all evil in the universe, there were faculty for whom Murtha was Satan,” said Mark Larrimore, religious studies chair at Lang.
On December 10, 2008, faculty passed a series of overwhelming no confidence resolutions condemning Kerrey and Murtha in response to the circumstances surrounding the sudden departure of Provost Joe Westphal. In a “Statement of Concerns” released the same day, they condemned then-President Bob Kerrey for allowing Murtha to “frustrate and sometimes sabotage many of the academic initiatives of the provost, deans and faculty.”
“As a result of which there has been a substantial reduction in the effectiveness and efficiency of all those directly involved with academic affairs,” the statement read.
Sixty-seven senior faculty members approved the no confidence motion which condemned Murtha. None objected and only one faculty member abstained.
In February 9, 2009 Free Press article, Murtha said he was surprised to learn that he was the target of so much animosity. He just saw himself as a background administrator who coordinated academic programs and handled everyday bureaucratic procedures.
Some of Murtha and Kerrey’s harshest student critics downplayed the potential impacts Murtha’s departure will have. Richard Thomas, one of the students who participated in the 2009 occupation of 65 Fifth Ave., said that he had protested Kerrey and Murtha’s administration, but was far more critical of the university’s direction, as he perceived it.
“The trajectory of the university hasn’t changed just because Kerrey and Murtha are gone,” Thomas said. “The university is mainstreaming.”
“We’re becoming an American university, which is not what The New School was,” he added.