Law school deans come, law school deans go, but this departure hurts. As Dean of Northwestern Law School, David Van Zandt has been a strong voice for a more practice-oriented approach to legal education, and he’s been doing it from the unusual perch of top 14 law school.

But at the end of the year he will leave to become the President of the New School. And boy are they happy. From the New School’s press release:

“We are proud to welcome David Van Zandt to The New School,” said Michael J. Johnston, chair of the Board of Trustees. “Since 1919, New School leadership has stood at the vanguard of American higher education. The New School today has emerged as a major degree-granting university with academic strengths in the humanities and social sciences, design, public administration, and the performing arts. I am confident that David Van Zandt will make lasting and meaningful contributions here, building on our legacy of preparing socially responsible citizens for the challenges of the future. I along with the rest of the Board and the university community look forward to working with David.”

Dr. Van Zandt will assume his new position as president of The New School on January 1, 2011. He succeeds the university’s current president, Bob Kerrey, who will remain as New School president until the end of 2010 to ensure a seamless transition. Kerrey, who was appointed in 2001, led The New School during a period of unprecedented growth.

Dean Van Zandt deserves the praise. But the sadness coming out of Northwestern is palpable. The kids at Northwestern Law were very attached to their dean…

In the past 90 minutes since the news broke, we’ve received the kinds of emails and gchats you don’t usually see when a law dean takes another job:

Today’s heartbreak:… DVZ was an incredible dean. Kudos to him for constantly thinking outside the box and trying to make law students a more marketable commodity. He’ll be sorely missed.

From another student:

It feels like a relative has died, he’s in a better place but my world is now worse off.

And from a Northwestern alum:

I didn’t get into HYS, but I got into UoC and the new york powerhouses. I went to NU and it was the best decision of my life, all b/c of DVZ.

Dean van Zandt was classy on his way out:

At today’s faculty meeting, I announced that I will be leaving Northwestern University to become the president of The New School in New York City. My last day will be December 31, 2010. While Lisa and I are excited about this new opportunity, our feelings are bittersweet. To say that Northwestern has been wonderful to us over the last two decades is an understatement. We will sorely miss our colleagues and friends here at the law school, the University, and in Chicago. This decision has been especially difficult because my interaction with Northwestern Law graduates throughout the world has made my job such a pleasure and is something that I truly have cherished.

You can read his full statement below.

Northwestern Law students are particularly hurting, but it’s really the whole community of legal education that has suffered a loss today. Van Zandt was an innovator and challenged traditional ideas about how a law school should work. During a time when the entire value proposition of going to law school is being called into question, Van Zandt was an important voice. He will be missed by many inside and outside the Northwestern community.

We congratulate Van Zandt on his new endeavor, and eagerly await the person who will try to fill his sizable shoes at Northwestern Law.


STATEMENT FROM DAVID VAN ZANDT TO THE NORTHWESTERN LAW COMMUNITY

At today’s faculty meeting, I announced that I will be leaving Northwestern University to become the president of The New School in New York City. My last day will be December 31, 2010. While Lisa and I are excited about this new opportunity, our feelings are bittersweet. To say that Northwestern has been wonderful to us over the last two decades is an understatement. We will sorely miss our colleagues and friends here at the law school, the University, and in Chicago. This decision has been especially difficult because my interaction with Northwestern Law graduates throughout the world has made my job such a pleasure and is something that I truly have cherished.

Thanks to so many in our community, the Law School has made great strides over the last 15 years and is well positioned to continue to provide the most creative and innovative legal education in the world. Our students are the best prepared to meet the challenges of a legal services industry that is adapting to the tumult of the times, and our faculty lead the research world with cutting-edge, discipline-based research that enhances our understanding of law and legal institutions.

The people who make up the Law School — students, faculty, staff, and alumni and friends — have all contributed to what makes Northwestern Law so successful, and, to new students and faculty joining us this fall, rest assured that our culture will only get stronger. I am confident that President Schapiro and Provost Linzer will select a new leader who will take the law school even beyond where we have been able to go. Until a new dean is appointed, we will continue to push forward our programs and innovations, our faculty hiring, and planning for the future of the Law School.

For your information, I have pasted below the message which is being sent to the Northwestern community from Provost Linzer as well as The New School’s internal announcement.

Lisa and I thank each and every one of you for your kindness and support over the years.

David


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