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Dean Confidential

The deans of NYU’s schools are easy to admire from afar: The University relies on their leadership and vision for the departments and programs they oversee. But with this series, NYU Stories offers a chance to get to know these professionals on a personal level. Which dean dreamt of a career onstage? Who’s the most devoted hobbyist? Stay tuned for a new, rapid-fire interview every couple of weeks.


ENGINEERING DEAN KATEPALLI R. SREENIVASAN'S DREAMS FOR HIS NEXT LIFE

Engineering Dean Katepalli R. Sreenivasan

What's your pre-workday morning routine?
I check my email even before getting up from bed and spend an hour or two catching up with those that have arrived overnight from Europe and Asia. I have a number of scientific collaborators in those parts of the world to whom I have the obligation of being reasonably responsive. These interactions become especially urgent and intense when we are writing a paper together or planning a workshop. That's the fun part.

If not for your current career, what might have been your dream job?
I don't regard being a dean as a step in a career path—I happen to be doing it because, at the moment, it is important in some larger sense: I believe that a full-scale integration of engineering into NYU is critical to NYU, and that the effort spent on creating a first-rate engineering school is worth it. If I can be part of it, why not?

My dream has always been to be a great mathematician. A second dream, also from my childhood, has been to be a great poet or a composer. Regretfully, all of this has escaped me and I’ll have to be reborn to get there. I feel that I am consigned to the fringes of the highest levels of creativity; I have seen flashes of it once in a rare while but they have faded away because I have drowned myself with trivia.

What are you reading now?
I happen to be reading currently the issue of Daedalus on Growing Pains in a Rising China. Some of the writing here confirms my experience that people often obfuscate their true sentiments behind the veneer of politeness, civility, scholarship, and loftiness of mind.

What are your guilty pleasures?
Against the advice and admonitions of my wife and children, I eat too much junk food—especially chocolate chip cookies. I also read a lot of junk novels, especially while traveling. I don't surf the web needlessly and save a lot of time that way; I also save a lot of time by not gossiping too much about anything or anyone.

What music makes you want to sing along?
When I obsessively listen to a piece (especially Indian classical music) I feel the urge to sing along, but it is fortunate for both myself and for everyone around me that the urge is to do so silently.

What's the best part of working at NYU? …And what's (gasp) the hardest?
The best part of NYU is its willingness to experiment and take calculated risks; it does not sit on its bottom and it is not a status quo institution. This is terrific—and very few institutions in the world are this lively. The hardest aspect is that there is only a loose institutional understanding here that every experiment, in order for it to be successful, needs to be accompanied by enormous amount of extra work and dedication: Inspiration alone will not do.

 


LAW DEAN TREVOR MORRISON PERFECTS THE ART OF THE DAILY CAPPUCCINO

 

Law Dean Trevor Morrison

Law School Dean Trevor Morrison

What's your pre-workday morning routine?
I usually get up at around 5:30 to catch up on email and work on other projects. I like the quiet of the morning. I'm deeply devoted to my espresso machine, which takes up an unreasonable amount of space on our kitchen counter. I make cappuccino for my wife and me each morning and practice making steamed milk art.

If not for your current career, what might have been your dream job?

I ran track and cross-country for a couple years in college and had a few teammates who went on to run in the Olympics. I was never anywhere near that level, but I sure dreamed about it.

What book are you reading now? What's next on your list?

I'm slowly making my way through Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I'm also re-reading Melville's Billy Budd for a law school reading group I'll be leading next year, on law and lawyers in literature.

What are your guilty pleasures?
Too many to count, but they include ginger cookies and the Netflix series House of Cards.

What music makes you want to sing along?

I have a special fondness for ’80s pop, much to the chagrin of the rest of my family.

What's your favorite NYC restaurant (and why)? What do you order there?

I could name ten restaurants tied for second in my book, but first is the vegan dosa and samosa cart that sets up at lunchtime across from the Law School. Thiru Kumar, the owner, is a genius.

What's the best part of working at NYU? …And what's (gasp) the hardest?
The best thing about NYU is its people, of course. There is an energy and enthusiasm among the students, faculty, and administrators that is truly infectious. Keeping up with it all can be a challenge.  

 


 

DINER BREAKFASTS AND HGTV MARATHONS WITH LIBERAL STUDIES DEAN FRED SCHWARZBACH

DEAN FRED SCHWARZBACH

Liberal Studies Dean Fred Schwarzbach

What's your pre-workday morning routine?
I’m a very early riser, and, after feeding and tending my cat, Gomez, I’m off for a two-mile walk through lower Manhattan. New York is a strange and beautiful place in the hour before dawn, and that walk always helps me think through whatever I need to face later that day. Then it’s time for an hour of reading and email before anyone else is awake.

If not for your current career, what might have been your dream job?
My alternative career would be Curator of Ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I collect European ceramics, and over the years I’ve lectured and written about pottery enough to make me think I could have done this full-time. My only challenge would be resisting the temptation to slip a few of the museum’s treasures into my pocket from time to time. I suspect that sort of behavior is frowned upon.

What book are you reading now? What's next on your list?
I always seem to have two books going at once. Right now, one is Jumbo, the Unauthorised Biography of a Victorian Sensation, written by my dissertation director, John Sutherland. It’s not only filled with curious trivia about a famous elephant, but it calls up Sutherland’s voice in my mind’s ear, and with it, many years of his friendship and support. I’m also just beginning The Broken Road, the third and final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s fascinating account of his walk—at age 18—from London to Istanbul in the years just before World War II.

What are your guilty pleasures?
I am semi-addicted to watching HGTV. The shows are utterly predictable: A family urgently needs more space; they embark on an impossible renovation project; everything goes wrong; and, at the last minute, the big reveal shows them in a beautiful space that meets all of their needs. Where else can you find such easy resolutions?

What music makes you want to sing along?
When I sing, dogs howl, and when I dance, grown men weep. So I generally don’t do either, at least in public. At the moment, though, I am listening to Frank Sinatra’s Capital recordings. What a treat.

What's your favorite NYC restaurant?
I’m obsessed by New York diners—not any particular one, but all of them. I am always looking for ones I haven’t tried before, and I almost always order the same breakfast special: two scrambled eggs, hash browns, and rye toast. The great thing about diners is that you can have breakfast at any time of the day. As a native New Yorker, it came as a shock to me to discover that in most other places around the world, you can’t have breakfast for dinner.

What's the best part of working at NYU? …And what's (gasp) the hardest?
What’s best? That’s easy— the GNU. It’s thrilling to be at the cutting edge of the globalization of higher education and at an institution that boasts the finest global programs in the world. What’s more, it’s just a heck of a lot of fun following our students as they travel throughout the network. They seem as comfortable in Paris or Shanghai as they do on the Square— and, frankly, these days, I do, too. What’s hardest? Also the GNU. As exciting and important as our global work is, the travel itself can be wearing. And scheduling a meeting with NYU colleagues in several different time zones is a real challenge—someone invariably has to be in the meeting at either 6 am or midnight, and that someone is often me.  

 


 

GALLATIN DEAN SUSANNE WOFFORD DREAMS OF SAILING

 

Susanne Wofford

Gallatin Dean Susanne Wofford

If not for your current career, what might have been your dream job?
I would have enjoyed being a geographer for the US Geological Survey. I love maps. A second great career would have been to be a sailboat captain and owner.

What book are you reading now? What's next on your list?
Right now I am reading two books: Sinan Antoon's The Corpse Washer, a brilliant novel set in Baghdad in contemporary times, and Kim Scott's That Deadman Dance about the first encounters between aboriginal Australian people and European settlers. Next on my list is Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers.

What are your guilty pleasures?
Hmm...reading the New York Times cover to cover (in the print version) might count, as it uses up a lot of time. I wish I could say I watch too much TV—but I don't have time!

What music makes you want to sing along?
I just saw Motown the Musical, and that was definitely a sing-along experience. I also love country, rock, Irish punk (like Flogging Molly), folk music, opera, and operetta—and I sing along to it all.

What's your favorite NYC restaurant?
WONG, on Cornelia Street—gourmet Asian with local ingredients, great atmosphere, and really great food. I order the Hake with Vietnamese noodles. I also love Blue Hill on Washington Place when I can get in—a favorite.

What's the best part of working at NYU? …And what's (gasp) the hardest?
The best part of working at NYU is the amazing number of exciting new ideas and programs always being developed—so many new possibilities at every turn. The hardest part is probably the same thing: It is hard to keep up with all that is happening, and even when you are paying attention there is always some major new program being developed in a part of the university you haven't checked out recently!

 


 

LAZY MORNINGS WITH WAGNER DEAN SHERRY GLIED

 

Dean Sherry Glied

Wagner Dean Sherry Glied

What's your pre-workday morning routine?
I'm very lazy in the morning. I lie in bed and surf the blogs to see if anyone has written anything interesting. Sometimes I'll get up and do a 7-minute workout—very efficient, for someone who hates exercising.

If not for your current career, what might have been your dream job?
General manager at the Metropolitan Opera.

What book are you reading now? What's next on your list?
I'm rereading Huckleberry Finn. After that, I'll finish The Broken Road, the last book in Patrick Leigh Fermor's autobiographical trilogy about his walk across Europe.

What are your guilty pleasures?
The Saturday afternoon radio opera broadcast, which I listen to while snoozing on the couch and eating cookies.

What music makes you want to sing along?
I love all kinds of music. As a kid, my dad used to sing songs from musicals while driving the car, so those are the ones I'm most likely to burst out singing.

What's your favorite NYC restaurant?
Lately, we've been going to the Cecil, an Afro-Asian-American restaurant up on 118th Street. The flavors are very unusual. I really like the crispy artichokes and the mac and cheese.

What's the best part of working at NYU? …And what's (gasp) the hardest?
My colleagues are wonderful, the neighborhood is fabulous, our students are great—I just wish the air conditioning system worked better!
 


 

GSAS DEAN LAUREN BENTON CAN'T RESIST A GOOD BARGAIN

 

GSAS Dean Lauren Benton

GSAS Dean Lauren Benton

What's your pre-workday morning routine?
I have a very old dog who has commanded my morning routine for the last fourteen years. I used to take him to a local dog run where he would get into scrapes, or to a nearby park where he would get unspeakably dirty, but lately we just tour the neighborhood together. I love getting outside first thing in the morning, and in all kinds of weather. It gives me a few minutes to ruminate on the shape of the day ahead.

If not for your current career, what might have been your dream job?

Travel writer, I suppose. For several years between college and graduate school, I traveled around Europe, taking odd jobs. If I'd been able to make a living writing about my experiences, I might not have gone to graduate school. I made tandoori ovens in London, worked as a driver for a disabled man in Paris, painted houses in Mallorca, and cooked on a Mediterranean yacht, among other things. I was a terrible cook, by the way, so celebrity chef was definitely not an option.

What book are you reading now? What's next on your list?
I just finished Global Crisis, Geoffrey Parker's book about the so-called little ice age in the 17th century. Parker calls it a "big, depressing book," and I suppose it is since just about the only part of the globe that didn't experience major political upheaval or acute famine in the seventeenth century was Antarctica. Next on my list is a slightly less depressing, bigger book: Jurgen Osterhammel's massive tome on global transformations in the 19th century. It won't be a beach read, but I'm looking forward to finding out what he has to say since I'm writing a book now with an Australian historian on the British Empire and world history in the early 19th century.

What are your guilty pleasures?
I am addicted to scavenging for second-hand stuff. I don't haunt eBay, but I always have an eye out for yard or stoop sales, and I am not beneath picking up something interesting that someone is throwing away. I once pulled a painting by a minor 1950s New York artist out of a pile of curbside cast-offs, and I own a Dali lithograph that I got for a few bucks at a garage sale. Of course, I have also been known to acquire less refined things, if not actual junk. Last year I put in a silent bid on an unremarkable antique map at a local church sale. I wasn't sure about the purchase, so while I still had the high bid, I was delighted to see someone else examining the map closely. "Are you going to buy it?" I asked brightly. "No," the woman answered. "I am just trying to figure out why some idiot wants to pay so much money for such an ugly map." I told her the bid was mine and we had a good laugh. I still own the map, of course. Fortunately, it's growing on me.

What music makes you want to sing along?
You remember the scene in the movie The Kids Are All Right when Annette Bening's character spontaneously starts singing Joni Mitchell a cappella at the dinner table? My kids could relate.

What's your favorite NYC restaurant?
Marumi on LaGuardia Place has fabulous sashimi. And you can do work over lunch because half the NYU administration is there on any given day.

What's the best part of working at NYU? And what's (gasp) the hardest?
The best part of working at NYU is the students. As Dean of the Graduate School, I not only continue to teach history courses, but I also get to have contact with master's and doctoral students from across departments. It's a gift to be around so many talented people day in and day out. The most challenging thing about working at NYU is that it is sprawling and complex. But, of course, that's another one of its great qualities because complexity makes the place endlessly interesting. I never have a dull day working here.  

 


 

QUARTERBACK DRILLS WITH STERN DEAN PETER HENRY

Dean Peter Henry

Stern Dean Peter Henry

What’s your pre-workday morning routine?
In the summer, I head to Pier 40 with my eldest son to do quarterback drills. We get there around 6 am, before the fields are in demand, and we’ve developed a rapport with the garbage collectors. My younger sons frequently join us (their passion is soccer). During the school year, I get up even earlier—not to exercise but to write.

If not for your current career, what might have been your dream job?
At one point, I entertained the idea of becoming an orthopedic surgeon, but it turns out I couldn’t stomach the sight of blood. Ironically, I ended up needing a surgeon to fix my shoulder after my sophomore football season in college. That effectively put an end to my other dream career of being a professional athlete.

What book are you reading now? What’s next on your list?
Currently, I’m reading The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. Next on the list is Pride and Prejudice.

What are your guilty pleasures?
Pints of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Crunch, the poems of A. A. Milne, and binge watching Friday Night Lights.

What music makes you want to sing along… or dance?
Run DMC, Bob Marley, U2, 80s retro … and Schoolhouse Rock!

What’s your favorite NYC restaurant? What do you order there?
Pop’s of Brooklyn. They used to have a location around the corner from me, and I always ordered their jerk wings with a vanilla shake.

What’s the best part of working at NYU? …And what’s the hardest?
The best part about working at NYU is the University’s entrepreneurial spirit and sense of purpose. The hardest part? So many good ideas, so little time.

 


 

DEAN OF LIBRARIES CAROL A. MANDEL LOVES MOZART, PILATES, AND EGGROLLS

Dean of Libraries Carol A. Mandel

Dean of Libraries Carol A. Mandel

What's your pre-workday morning routine?
I’m either with a gym trainer, a Pilates trainer, or on the elliptical machine—except for when I hit the “snooze” button.

If not for your current career, what might have been your dream job (baseball player, Broadway star, chef...)?
Ballerina. (I assume from your examples, you’re not requiring genetic realities…)

What book are you reading now? What's next on your list?
I’m reading E. L. Doctorow’s Andrew’s Brain in the copy Edgar gave me. Teed up on my e-book reader is Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night.

What are your guilty pleasures?
Egg rolls; pizza

What music makes you want to sing along?
Well the other night at the opera I definitely imagined myself singing along with Susanna Phillips in Cosi fan tutte. (In my imagination I had “Come scoglio” nailed. … But those genetic realities interfered with any actual accompaniment on my part.)

What's your favorite NYC restaurant?
One’s palate would have to be awfully limited to even consider having only one “favorite” restaurant in NYC. But maybe someday someone will take me to Masa.

What's the best part of working at NYU? …And what's (gasp) the hardest?
Best: The continual drive toward and accomplishment of amazing vision. The creativity in developing and achieving that vision. Hardest: Finding space!

 


 

STEINHARDT DEAN MARY BRABECK ON VEEP AND AN OPERATIC DREAM DEFERRED

Steinhardt Dean Mary Brabeck

Steinhardt Dean Mary Brabeck

If not for your current career, what might have been your dream job?
Well, an opera singer, but for that I would have had to been born with a voice!

What book are you reading now? What's next on your list?
I am currently reading My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, a book about my favorite book of all time. Next is The Submission by Amy Waldman.

What are your guilty pleasures?
I love good mystery novels: From Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Dashiell Hammett to Henning Mankell, Patricia Cornwell, Elizabeth George, and P.D. James—I love them all, and sometimes "write" my own murder mystery in my mind. And, of course, for professional development: House of Cards and Veep.

What music makes you want to sing along…or dance?
I like almost all music, though you would not want me to sing along!

What's your favorite NYC restaurant? What do you order there?
Ramen Takumi on University Place. I order the Steinhardt roll!

What's the best part of working at NYU? And what's the hardest?
The hardest things about working at NYU are the challenges we face, from raising scholarships and financial aid for our brilliant students to renovating our 100-year-old buildings to improve learning, research, and safety. But the best part—the people—make it all worth it. John Sexton is right when he says that NYU has a great “attitudinal endowment.” I think the people at NYU are can-do, creative, and willing to take risks as they build this great University.

 

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