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Jonathan Veitch: Always Edgy but Never Foolish

March 13, 2015 - Author: steph - No Comments

When most people think of university presidents, the image of a reserved, conservative, perhaps somewhat stuffy individual in a well pressed suit and tie. While this may describe some leaders in higher education settings, Jonathan Veitch, president of Occidental College in Los Angeles, definitely doesn’t fit this mold. In late summer of 2012, photographer Max Gerber got a pleasant surprise when Veitch’s office contacted him about an upcoming photo shoot with the president. The email stated, that instead of the expected conference room portrait, Veitch would prefer something, “edgy but not foolish.” Wary of hoping for something truly unique, Gerber exchanged a few more emails with the president’s assistants until finally his hope was realized. He received a messages simply stating, “Just talked to Jonathan. He wants to do the shoot in the fountain. With the water going.” The resulting photos of Veitch floating, hands behind his head, dressed in a suit and tie (sans jacket and shoes) and head shots taken with water dripping down his face became the established image of Occidental College’s president.

Pictures aside, Veitch has a distinguished academic history, which he continues to expand upon. After completing his bachelor’s degree at Stanford and his doctoral degree at Harvard, Veitch was on faculty in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin. Following this appointment, he accepted a position at the New School in New York where he became chair of humanities, associate Provost and ultimately the Dean of Arts and Sciences. He became the president of Occidental college in 2009, where he continues to teach and publish on 19th- and 20th-century American literature and cultural history, and American film.

A Los Angeles native, Veitch comes from a well- known Hollywood family headed by his step-grandfather, actor Alan Ladd followed by his father, John Veitch who became president of Columbia Pictures. Veitch’s interest in history was extended to subjects related to his own family background when he wrote “American Superrealism: Nathanael West and the Politics of Representation in the 1930s,” an award winning book about Natahneal West who examined the more troubling aspects associated with Hollywood and the film industry.

Veitch’s values are evident in the close working relationships encouraged between faculty and students, and he models this by frequently meeting with both current and prospective students whether they major in his discipline or not. He believes that in order to provide the best education possible it is not enough to have great classroom instruction. The mentoring relationship between professors and those they teach is a crucial component in higher education, in Veitch’s opinion. According to his college profile, he fosters an atmosphere that promotes the development of new ideas, comfort with thinking outside the box, tolerance of ambiguity and the ability to communicate effectively through strong writing skills. Whereas some University presidents may focus more on alumni and funding, Veitch goes beyond these traditional Presidential activities, focusing instead on helping future generations grow and prepare for a future where they can establish productive careers and accomplish whatever goals they set.

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