When the New School’s faculty passed an overwhelming vote of no confidence against university president Bob Kerrey last week, it was only the latest insurrection the former Nebraska senator has faced since he became its president, in 2001. He’s rankled segments of the faculty, who say he’s out of touch with the 89-year-old institution’s progressive roots and the students, several dozen of whom stormed his office to protest his endorsement of the Iraq War in 2002. (In 2006, Ward Churchill got a standing ovation when he came to campus and called Kerrey, a Vietnam veteran, a “mass murderer and serial killer to boot.”) He’s also run through five provosts and twelve deans. Kerrey spoke to Jacob Gershman.
What do the protesting faculty want you to change?
I didn’t even know about the vote. I still don’t know what they want me to do.
What’s the disagreement?
They say I don’t understand higher education. To a certain extent it’s true I don’t understand. It’s baffling at times.
Do you think your job is in jeopardy?
It’s not even close to a crisis.
One protest organizer, anthropologist and former provost Arjun Appadurai, called you “impulsive, autocratic.”
He was a provost I fired. He’s leaving for NYU in two weeks. My temperament is, I’m the president of the university. I tend to look at results as the most important thing to measure. Our culture is that students expect for us to perform.
What part of your record are you most proud of?
Financially, we’re in good shape. We’re not selling our assets to pay our bills. We’ve doubled our enrollments over the last eight years. We created a faculty senate.
What’s been your biggest mistake?
The biggest mistake was to hire Appadurai as provost.