Jonathan Veitch, former dean of the New School’s Eugene Lang College in New York City and scion of a prominent Hollywood family, will be the next president of Occidental College, the liberal arts campus in Eagle Rock that Barack Obama attended for two years.
Veitch’s hiring at Occidental, announced Friday and effective July 1, comes after several years of leadership instability at the 1,868-student campus, which has had four presidents since 2005.
A literature and history professor with degrees from Stanford and Harvard, Veitch helped to expand Lang’s student body and faculty and connected the undergraduate liberal arts college with arts and social service organizations. He was also described as an effective fundraiser, an important trait in tough economic times.
A Los Angeles native, Veitch has deep film-industry roots; his step-grandfather was the actor Alan Ladd and his father, John Veitch, was president of Columbia Pictures’ worldwide productions. Jonathan Veitch wrote a book about novelist Nathanael West, whose “The Day of the Locust” presented a nightmarish vision of Hollywood.
In a telephone interview from New York, where he is on sabbatical as a professor after five years as Lang College dean, Veitch said he was delighted to be returning to Los Angeles. Although it’s too soon for detailed plans, he said he wants to boost Occidental’s engagement with the city. “It has Los Angeles at its doorstep and all kinds of cultural institutions that the students could really take advantage of,” he said.
Lang, part of the multiunit New School university, nearly doubled its student body to about 1,350 in recent years. Occidental, on the other hand, has no expansion plans. Occidental’s endowment value has dropped by about a fourth in recent months to $300 million, which Veitch said still is relatively healthy for a school of its size.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said of the recession. “These kind of situations force you to take an inventory of what you do and decide what your priorities are. But I think it’s going to be OK.”
Veitch turns 50 today. “It’s quite a birthday present,” he said of his appointment. He and his wife Sarah and three children, ranging in age from 5 to 14, will move into the president’s house on campus for what he hopes will be at least 10 years.
A lengthy presidency would be a change for Occidental, at least of late. Former UCLA Law Dean Susan Prager served as Occidental president for just 17 months, resigning in late 2007 after clashes with trustees over her leadership style. Robert Skotheim, former head of the Huntington Library, will stay as interim president through June 30.