Gene and Jonathan Fanton clashed repeatedly over Lang College, as Gene felt that Jonathan paid most of his attention to the graduate school that had brought luster to The New School for its first sixty years. Part reason for the clash with Gene was Jonathan’s understanding of the concomitants of having an undergraduate college—in particular, that The New School would now need to have full-time professors as well as dormitories to house full-time young students, and that fulfilling these obligations would be quite a task. But it was done. The Eugene M. Lang College started with two hundred students; today it has a thousand and is able to compete favorably for interesting and intelligent entering students with neighboring New York University, the country’s largest private university.
Since I was the board member most experienced with construction, and since to expand the university we needed new and renovated buildings, one of my first board projects was a dormitory to house some of the undergraduates.
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Another of my early projects, even more self-generated, was computerization. I was the first member of the board to own a computer, and I recognized before other board members did how behind the times the school’s administration and teaching tools were. My fellow board members were also, shall we say, not computer literate at that time. I pushed for computerization, for instance in the Parsons design school, where the need was most obvious. Today, Parsons, like every other design school, must have software engineers on staff that specialize in computer-aided design. Some educational-policy experts say that if we had not pushed Parsons into the forefront of the field of computer-assisted design in the early 1980s, the school would have seriously fallen behind and would certainly not be the leader in its field that it has become.
I also championed The New School’s entry into the field of providing distance-learning courses, as these are an ideal complement to our sort of small-seminar classes in eclectic subjects. Here, too, we were fortunate to be in the forefront of an educational revolution, instead of having to play catch up. Many of our New York area students now take a combination of classroom and distance learning courses.
In the 1930s, The New School had built an auditorium, not for classes but for occasional concerts and theatrical performances. The architect, Joseph Urban, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany like so many of the other people associated with The New School in that era, had created what was eventually considered to be an art deco masterpiece, with bright vermillion columns on the side walls, and a selection of ascending hues on a series of ceiling projections that added to the feeling of ceiling height. It was a hall, but an intimate one with good sight lines and acoustics. By the 1980s, although designated as a landmark, it had fallen into disrepair. For example, thoughtless maintenance had slopped a single coat of white paint over the scalloped ceiling projections, eroding the architect’s original intent.
Jonathan Fanton had presented the board with a list of various “gift opportunities,” projects that might interest a board member enough to have him or her want to make a substantial gift with the expectation that the project would afterward bear the donor’s name.