From The Big Apple to The City of Angels

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Author: Thomas Schryver

On June 30, 2009, Dr. Jonathan Veitch will replace Robert Skotheim as the next President of Occidental. Veitch will be Occidental’s fifteenth President, yet surprisingly its first native Angelino President in its 122- year history. The step-grandson of film actor Alan Ladd, and the son of the former President of worldwide film production at Columbia Pictures, Veitch comes from a well-known Hollywood family.

Despite his family’s film industry roots, Veitch is by no means a stranger to the realm of academia. He was a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, an associate Professor of Literature and History and Chairman of Humanities at the New School in New York City, and he served as Dean for five years at Eugene Lang College. Veitch has also served as a consultant for Antioch College and as a Fulbright senior specialist in Kazakhstan.

As a member of the Stanford University class of 1981, and a graduate of Harvard University, Veitch is highly appreciative of the experiences and opportunities to which he was allowed access.

“I loved being an undergraduate,” Veitch said. “It was transformative. I was asleep and it woke me up. The attention I received and the friendships I developed, I have never forgotten. They were showing me what was exciting about the life of the mind.”Veitch’s own experiences as a student have greatly impacted his recognition of the important aspects of a liberal arts education. “[Being a student] showed me the need for a really strong classroom, an accessible faculty, good teachers, and an intellectually stimulating environment” Veitch said.

Following his graduation from Stanford University, Veitch backpacked overseas and traveled across the United States. Yearning to get a closer look at the United States that he could not obtain simply by traveling, Veitch sought out various manual labor jobs. “When I graduated, I wanted to get a job that I could only get in particular regions of the country. They were amazing jobs that allowed me to meet all kinds of interesting people: farmers, fishermen [. . .] people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

Veitch first worked on a dairy farm in Nebraska. Next, Veitch traveled to the East Coast, working on the docks of Boston. “If you’ve ever seen The Perfect Storm or The Deadliest Catch, it was like that, only I was one of the people unloading all the fish they brought in.”

Veitch spoke about some of the more testing aspects of his work on the wharf. “I would go home exhausted, covered with fish slime. I’d put my clothes in the basement so I wouldn’t have to smell them, then when I got up they would be frozen. You cannot imagine getting into jeans frozen in fish slime and then feeling them thaw out over the course of the day.”

Veitch also worked on a tugboat traveling down the Mississippi River. “It was beautiful,” Veitch said. “Going down the Mississippi, I worked for 36 days, working six hour shifts followed by six hours off. We would be woken up in the middle of the night sometimes, and have to chase runaway barges down the river after the lines snapped.”

Veitch’s travel experience did not end after his post-graduate job experiences. He taught at the Doshisha University in Kyoto, as a visiting Professor, teaching American Studies to Japanese grad students.

“There’s a certain stereotype about the Japanese that if you’re a foreigner, you have to get to know someone for at least 20 years before you can be invited over to their home for dinner,” Veitch said. “My family’s and my experiences in Kyoto shattered that stereotype completely.” Veitch described the residents of Kyoto as “warm and inviting,” and in more than one instance, more than willing to selflessly help Veitch and his family when they misplaced their belongings. “My daughter left her bag in a taxi, and the driver returned it to us; I once accidentally left a couple hundred dollars behind in public and it was returned to as well [. . .] my family and I began to think that our possessions would be best left in the hands of the Japanese than with us!”

Veitch has a long track record of achievements that make him well-suited for the position of president at Occidental during the country’s currently turbulent economic climate. As the Dean of Eugene Lang College, he increased the college’s annual fundraising from $40,000 to $2 million, hired over 60 full-time faculty members, added new college programs for civic outreach, and enhanced the college’s curriculum and overseas programs.

“I feel very well prepared,” Veitch said in regard to his upcoming role at Occidental. “In some ways, being the Dean is very similar to being a president.” Veitch listed many ideas about what can be done to enhance the curriculum of Occidental and connect it to the vibrancy of Los Angeles’ culture and art. “Oxy’s location is a spectacular opportunity; there are so many cultural and educational institutions in the area,” Veitch said. “L.A. has the Huntington Gardens and Libraries, the Japanese American National Museum, the Southwest Museum, the Norton Simon, and many other prime locations of educational potential.”

“Oxy and Lang are similar in that they are both small urban liberal arts colleges. I want to take advantage of Occidental’s unique location as a liberal arts college in Los Angeles similarly to how I took advantage of Lang’s location in an urban, metropolitan environment.

Veitch also expressed a strong desire to participate in Occidental campus life and to connect with students. “In terms of community, one of the great pleasures of the job is working with people. I’ve never been one for staying in the office all day and trying to get things done remotely,” Veitch said. “I want to go to games, plays, productions, concerts, field trips, and simply get to know students personally.”Veitch, his wife, and three children are looking forward to their upcoming move to Los Angeles. “L.A. is one of the most interesting cities in the US. It has changed so dramatically in the last 20 years, and I haven’t been home in about 20 years,” Veitch said. “People have been so welcoming and warm. My kids are also very excited about living on a college campus; it seems very exotic to them.”

Since the 2005 departure of former Occidental College President Ted Mitchell, Oxy has seen three different individuals take the seat of the President’s office in the Coons Administration building. Following Mitchell’s unexpected departure, Interim President Kenyon Chan stepped up to fill Mitchell’s spot and was followed by the 18-month tenure of Susan Prager. Current Occidental Interim President Robert Skotheim succeeded Prager on Jan. 1 2008. During the summer of 2008, Occidental formed a presidential search committee, which convened to examine potential candidates. Comprised of five trustees, five faculty members, two students, one senior administrator, and one staff representative, the committee undertook the difficult task of finding Occidental’s fifteenth president.

Student and search committee member Monica Espinoza (junior) spoke about the process the committee underwent. “As a committee, we were broken up into smaller teams for 3-4 people to make contacts with and follow-up with potential candidates and candidates that had already submitted their material to the committee,” Espinoza said. The committee began with a total of 92 candidates, and in the fall of 2008 met one to two times a month, each meeting usually lasting five hours.

Throughout these meetings, the committee was tasked with the difficult charge of narrowing down a large pool of qualified candidates. Vice Chair of Occidental’s Board of Trustees and head of the Presidential Search Committee John Farmer spoke of the challenges the committee faced in finding and selecting the right individual for the position. “The challenge was identifying and building a pool of qualified and diverse individuals,” Farmer said. “We had [President Skotheim] write to the Annapolis Group (a group of presidents from liberal arts colleges around the United States) for recommendations.”I
n terms of professional qualities, Farmer said the committee sought out candidates who had leadership experience, familiarity with a college of liberal arts and sciences, and an appreciation of the liberal arts in a small college setting.”In terms of personal qualities,” Farmer said, “we were seeking candidates who possessed an appreciation, understanding, and comprehension of kinship, someone who could develop a sense of trust with faculty and students, someone who is an accomplished public speaker, someone who has academic credentials the faculty will respect, and someone who can develop relationships that can help fundraising.” This latter quality, Farmer emphasized, was of particular importance to Occidental’s well-being and future growth. “Gifts built this college and gifts will continue to build it,” Farmer said.

President Skotheim also commented on the qualities he believed were necessary for a successful President to possess. In addition to the President’s ability to garner financial resources and increase fundraising, Skotheim noted that an important characteristic of a President is to “be the foremost public champion of the College and privately its sharpest critic.”Members of each of the constituencies of the search committee remarked on the fair and democratic nature of the search process. “The chair of the committee was a trustee, but beyond that, there was no hierarchy that empowered any one (or any constituency) over another,” ECLS Professor and committee member Raul Villa said. “Without exception, each and every committee member (faculty, staff, and trustees) was incredibly gracious, collegial, fair, and earnestly committed to the success of the search,” ASOC President Patrick McCredie (Senior) said. “All members of the board were free to speak frankly throughout the process, and did so with professionalism and good humor,” echoed committee member and Assistant Professor of Education, Mary Christianakis.

While the members of the search committee occasionally voiced differing opinions in regards to the candidates, they ultimately agreed on the final narrowing of the candidates. “While we all had strong individual opinions on who we supported, we were unanimous in our decision to bring the two candidates we chose for campus interviews,” committee member and DWA Professor, Movindri Reddy said.

The exhaustive search process eventually narrowed down between two candidates in January of 2008: Scott Bierman, Dean of Carleton College, and Jonathan Veitch, Dean of Eugene Lang College. On Jan. 29 2009, Veitch was officially named President of Occidental and will succeed Skotheim on June 30, 2009.

Although Occidental’s new President has been selected, the search committee spoke of the challenges Veitch will face once his tenure begins. President Skotheim named various challenges and priorities Occidental faces, such as the improvement of both internal and external campus relations and the finding of resources to plan for the future. Given the nature of America’s current fiscal crisis, however, this means a different set of concerns for Veitch.

McCredie highlighted the continuing importance of funding as a top priority for Veitch. “A healthy endowment is critical to the long term success of Occidental. As Veitch assumes office [. . .] building the endowment should be chief among his list of priorities,” McCredie said, emphasizing the importance of this initiative given economic conditions. “Accordingly,” McCredie continued, “Dr. Veitch’s ability to convince donors of Occidental’s merit and distinctiveness is paramount in attracting and retaining donor support.”Farmer and Skotheim also spoke of the necessity of Occidental having a President who is ‘in it for the long haul.’ “Overall, it’s very important that Veitch stay with Occidental,” Farmer said. “The President needs to develop a vision for the institution, and in order to execute that vision, [he] needs to be there.””It is of vital importance that Jonathan Veitch have a long and successful tenure,” Skotheim said. “Occidental College’s distinguished history is rooted partly in the two-decade long tenures of Remsen Bird, Arthur Coons, and Richard Gilman, between the 1920s and the 1980s.”

Overall, however, the members of the committee remain optimistic about Veitch’s presidency and the future of Occidental. “I think Jonathan is a smart, creative, and energetic individual [. . .] I think he is likely to energize the Oxy community,” Reddy said. Committee member and Associate Professor of Biology Gretchen North likened Veitch to a famous Occidental Alum: “Like Obama, Jonathan Veitch is smart, articulate, and ready to lead in new and promising directions.”

“It was not only about finding the most qualified person but also about finding the person who fit the best with Oxy and I think Jonathan Veitch is the right person for Oxy now as we enter the next phase of history,” Monica Espinoza said.

Espinoza also underscored the importance of Occidental coming together collectively as a community to welcome Dr. Veitch as its new President. “I think Dr. Veitch is more than capable for this job, it will take some time, however, for him to gather his bearings as it would for anyone in a new job,” she said. “Additionally, I don’t think he will come and alleviate any issues or problems that exist overnight [. . .] but I believe he will take Occidental to new heights.”

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