Lang Dean Abruptly Announces Departure
News - In a move that took many at The New School by surprise, Provost Tim Marshall announced on April 13 that he had accepted the request of Neil Gordon, dean of Eugene Lang College, to not renew his contract when it expires this July.
"[Gordon's] work with Lang College has been transformative," Marshall wrote in an e-mail message to the university. "He has worked diligently and effectively to advance the college as both a liberal arts college of growing national importance and as a major contributor to The New School’s broader academic mission." Marshall declined to comment further on Gordon's departure, citing concerns that he had yet to consult with Lang faculty.
New School President Bob Kerrey also declined to comment. At the same time, those close to the contract negotiation process also refrained from commenting, because discussions regarding employment at The New School are deemed confidential. When the provost's announcement was e-mailed, Gordon—the third Lang dean in six years—was in Southern California.
"It was a very hard decision for me to make," said Gordon in a telephone interview. "I love Lang."
During his two years in the deanship, Gordon was considered by many to be a successful fundraiser. He is said to have extended great efforts and time pursuing new donors for Lang across the country. In addition, he increased enrollment from 1,347 to 1,439 and aggressively pursued new faculty and staff hires.
"It took me a long time to be ready to give up on the work I'm doing," Gordon added. "I feel it's the right thing for me and the right time to do it for the college."
Gordon plans to take a sabbatical and return in 2011 to his former position among the Lang faculty as a tenured professor in the literary studies department.
He declined, however, to elaborate on the reasons underlying his request not to renew his contract as dean. To both faculty and students at Lang, the move raised a number of questions.
Many noted that Gordon's decision not to renew his contract seemed at odds with the recent push by Lang's faculty to support the extension of Gordon's deanship.
On November 5, the Lang faculty voted to recommend that the university administration offer Gordon a three-year contract extension. Coming after hours of impassioned debate over protocol, an extended discussion of Gordon's deanship, and a report to the faculty by Gordon himself, the faculty vote was viewed as a show of overwhelming support for Gordon. The faculty voted 61 in favor of extending Gordon's deanship, seven opposed, and three abstentions.
"I’m relieved," said Mark Larrimore, chair of religious studies, of Gordon's decision to leave the deanship. "Because, as I see it, the Lang faculty passed by a considerable majority a motion requesting re-employment of the dean, and we've heard nothing."
Many faculty had hoped that the vote would spur Provost Marshall and President Kerrey to strengthen Gordon's position within the university hierarchy. However, no developments emerged in the wake of the faculty vote until last week.
Some faculty were left to wonder about the sudden turn of events. "Neil's been a really strong dean for Lang," said Joseph Heathcott, chair of the urban studies department. "For a lot of faculty members, it may come as a surprise. I think people hoped having Neil would be a period of stability in the dean's office and it's not working out that way."
As for the deanship, the next steps remain unclear. Gordon said that the faculty, provost, and president must decide how to proceed. Ken Wark, associate dean of faculty at Lang, announced last week that he had called a meeting of the executive, the Faculty Council, and Lang's senators "to discuss the formalities of how Lang should proceed in response" to the Provost's announcement. At the same time, a full Lang faculty meeting has been scheduled for April 27.
Given that the announcement came so late in the academic year, some faculty warn that there may not be enough time to conduct a national search, and that a short-term solution may be the appointment of an interim-dean, chosen from within The New School community.
Gordon holds a Ph.D. in French literature from Yale and has written three novels. He joined The New School in 2002 as a writing professor and became chair of writing just two years later. As writing chair, Gordon formalized the department's structure and created standards for the fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and journalism tracks.
In 2008, when former dean Jonathan Veitch stepped down to return to teaching full-time, the university elected not to conduct a national search for a new dean. Thirteen full-time and tenured faculty members were nominated for the position; all but Gordon declined the job.