A Conversation with Hue Magazine

As part of our 75th anniversary celebration, the editors of HUE, the college magazine, asked me to reflect on FIT through a small group of questions. Some of them will appear in the next edition of the magazine. Here is a sneak preview of the entire interview.

1. What was your vision for the college when you first arrived in 1998, and how much
has it been fulfilled?

I am first and foremost a cheerleader for the future. When I arrived, I found a college rich in historical traditions and values, rich in student and faculty talent, and creativity. We were on the cusp of the new century; all kinds of changes were happening in the world. Student demographics were changing–the technological revolution was in full swing. It was clear to me that if we could harness all of our talent to embrace the changes, we had great potential for growth. But as a community, we really had to examine all we had—our strengths and weaknesses—in order for FIT to become a beacon of the future for the industries it serves. Some of that vision has been realized through a college-wide strategic planning process. But visions evolve; they are always a work in progress. You always want to achieve more.

2. At many organizations, strategic plans end up dead on a shelf. Why do you think our
plans have been so dynamic, successful, and ingrained into the fabric of the life of the

A strategic plan will only work if it has the community stamp. It is important that people feel they are part of the planning, so we deliberately created a process in which there was opportunity for everyone to have a voice. There were committees comprising faculty and other members of our community. They were deliberately formed with interdisciplinary interests and expertise in mind. The goal was to learn from one another about the different ideas germinating in the work of colleagues that could be incorporated in creative and collaborative ways to move FIT into the 21st century. We held roundtable discussions and town halls to get an overview of community interests and ideas. With technology advances, we were able to invite comments via the internet from members of the committee who were not able to attend the town halls or roundtable discussions. The goal was to create an inclusive process where everyone could develop a sense of ownership in the plan. For the most part, I think we succeeded.

3. As FIT’s longest-serving president, what are some of the highlights of your tenure–
and why?

  • It is my job as president to create opportunities for growth both for the college and for students, faculty and staff, and to the degree that my leadership played a role in that progress, I would consider that a highlight.
  • The success of the strategic plans—in part because in the process, they fostered a renewed appreciation of our ability to work together to realize the college’s vast possibilities. The process helped to break down silos; the level of cross-campus communication increased significantly, and now people from different corners of the campus started talking to each other, understanding the needs and interests of colleagues and collaborating as well.
  • Our long-time commitment to sustainability and all we’ve achieved in that arena (ie: 55 percent reduction in carbon emissions; 50 percent reduction in energy use; 17,000 square foot green roof system that diverts 300,000 gallons of runoff from the sewer system annually; rooftop natural dye garden; bee conservation program; inroads in biodesign; recognition from the city and state as an institutional leader in sustainability)
  • Today we are distinguishing ourselves in arenas that would have been unthinkable a short while ago. We collaborate with science giants like MIT and SUNY Stony Brook, we have national and international biodesign winners, and we have a growing presence in the world of materials science.
  • Campus renovations and improvements: the purchase and renovation of Kaufman Hall and the doubling of residential capacity; the new labs in Dubinsky; the student cafeteria and the Great Hall; the beautification of 27th Street; the lobby in the Pomerantz Center; supporting the infrastructure of the Museum at FIT; the vision for a new academic building, one fronting on West 28th Street—our first new academic building in over 40 years.

4. What have been your most stirring or moving or proudest moments?

Where we started: transforming a place by building on its natural resources. All of the following give my heart an extra beat when I think of them, and in effect are an outgrowth of that vision.

  • Developing partnerships with MIT, Stony Brook, Brown Opening the FIT/Infor DTech Lab and breaking new ground in the reputation and accomplishments for FIT
  • Opening our Innovation Center
  • Hiring accomplished scholars, designers, and artisans to join our faculty
  • Awakening the intellectual curiosity of our students to reach beyond their comfort zone to explore science and technology and marry that new-found knowledge to art and design
  • Commencements!
  • Meeting successful alums around the world
  • Working within a community to invigorate experimentation, exploration of new ideas and partnerships, collaboration, and movement to new horizons
  • And in another vein altogether, shepherding our community after the 9/11 strikes in a way that provided comfort and, to the degree possible, a sense of safety to all, including distant family members.

5. What is your vision for FIT in the next 25 years? What will the college look like?
What will be the emphasis in the curriculum? Who will our faculty and students be?

The most exciting element of envisioning the college in 2045 is that whoever we are and whatever that looks like is unknowable today in 2020. Indeed, that is more exciting than the challenge of predicting what will be. So many aspects of our lives have evolved—sometimes dramatically and sometimes rapidly—into new, life-changing patterns (ie: how we teach and learn, how we get information, communicate, are entertained, produce materials to support our lifestyles, etc.). All I can say is that we are bound by our imaginations, and those with the most fertile, daring and unfettered curiosity will continue to chart the path.

I am particularly encouraged by the creative abilities of our students as they have begun to harness their artistic and design ideas to the molecular and materials science of developing new configurations of natural elements in order to create sustainable, environmentally friendly products. Thus I believe the role of art and design combined with science and technology will have a huge imprint on an evolving way of life. By 2045 we will have perfected our current fledgling efforts and be well into the next chapters of biodesign and the new businesses of technologically advanced industries led by our graduates.

6. As you reflect on FIT and its history, what do you think its most important contribution has been to the industry and to the life and culture of the city?

FIT has been a safe haven for young creatives to learn about their place in the world. They arrive with a jumble of ideas and creative capabilities and they leave us destined to be the next generation of leaders of the creative industries that define New York City. For decades we have been turning out industry leaders and middle managers. Each generation carries a  vision or philosophy of life that I hope was influenced—for the good—by their years at FIT. Today’s students have a different prism, a different set of concerns, than our alumni from 2000 or 1975 or 1950. Today’s students are passionate about the environment, they are concerned with diversity and inclusion, and I think that is true of all of our students, whether they are destined for the C-suite or the big stage or middle management.

The creative industries at the heart of the dynamic culture and commerce of New York City will continue to evolve in response to the beliefs, commitment, and leadership of our graduates—particularly in regard to sustainability, diversity, iconoclastic breakthroughs in production, design, marketing and best business practices.