College of the Arts' Dean Geoffrey Newman Retires After 24-year Tenure

Leaves legacy of bringing distinction and excellence to the College and the University

Photo by Mike Peters

At the end of this academic year, Dr. Geoffrey W. Newman, Dean of the College of the Arts, will be retiring from Montclair State University after a 24-year tenure.

Newman is credited with many noteworthy achievements during his tenure, not the least of which is evolving the University’s School of the Arts into a “College” in 2006. In fact, he cites it as the accomplishment of which he is most proud.  (Read College of the Arts' 24-year Snapshot)
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A School Becomes A College  

Newman joined Montclair State in 1988 as dean of the then-School of Fine and Performing Arts. When Montclair became a State University in 1994, he founded the School of the Arts, which, over time, has encompassed five academic departments housing undergraduate and graduate programs, and nine auxiliary units -- Arts Programming (which produced “SummerFun”, “TheatreFest” and now “Peak Performances”), University Art Galleries (including the George Segal Gallery), Audience Services, College Performance Facilities, DuMont Television Center, International Center for the Arts, Student Services and Communications,  Technology Services and Education and Community Outreach.  

In 2006, Newman sought to reshape the School into a College of the Arts with a goal of evolving its academic departments into “schools” and reduce boundaries among academic disciplines.The first school, the John J. Cali School of Music, was initiated in summer 2006. The second, the School of Communication and Media, will formally be launched in summer 2012. A third school for Visual Arts and Design is currently being planned, together with plans for evolving the Department of Theatre and Dance.

Over the years, Newman expanded the College’s academic offerings from 12 degrees in the late ’90s to its current 60 majors, minors, concentrations and specializations. 

In this time, he expanded the faculty and upgraded facilities, such as those for the DuMont Television Center, University Dance Theatre, Howard Fox Theatre, and studios for the MFA-Studio and Fashion Studies programs.  He also oversaw the new construction and renovation of buildings, including the state-of-the-art Alexander Kasser Theater, John J. Cali School of Music (and Leshowitz Recital Hall), and the award-winning George Segal Gallery, among others..

Since founding the College in 2006, Newman has increased student enrollment by 40 percent (400 percent over his 24-year tenure) and has hired more than three-fourths of the current full-time faculty, numbering 343.

As a result of years of dedicated growth under Newman’s stewardship, Montclair State has twice secured the “Designated Center of Influence and Excellence in the Fine and Performing Arts for the State of New Jersey” distinction.
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Reflecting on his Legacy…

Jedediah Wheeler, executive director of Arts and Cultural Programming, said Newman has always supported the unit and its mission. The result, Wheeler said, has been a win-win for all concerned--the artists that perform, our students, and the University as a whole.

“The College of the Arts has benefited from the numerous… artists who visit the campus under the Peak Performances' banner,” he adds.  “This commitment to the artists of our time underscores Montclair State University's unparalleled leadership role in the arts.”  

Newman also helped launch “Art Forum,” “Film Forum,” and Artists-in-Residence programs to bring professional artists of all disciplines to campus.  

In 2010 he founded the Creative Research Center (CRC) -- a transdisciplinary online community. The purpose of the CRC is “to encourage diverse collaborations across disciplines and spotlight students' creative work,” cited Prof. Neil Baldwin of the Theatre and Dance department, who is also the Center’s founding director.  He said Newman approached him in 2009 with a concept for the center.

“Over the ensuing year, the Dean and I met in his office on many occasions to brainstorm about a place that, as he put it, would be ‘an interdisciplinary location for true imaginative freedom -- not just in the arts, but crossing boundaries throughout the entire University,’ " Baldwin added.

Since its debut in April 2010, the virtual Center has grown beyond anyone’s expectations.

M. Teresa Lapid Rodriguez, director of the George Segal Gallery, recalled Newman’s invaluable help in securing the funds from the George and Helen Segal Foundation to build the gallery.

“We had many conversations about the process, in which a delicate balance needed to be struck between the visions of the George Segal Foundation for its collection and the University’s own direction.  In the end, I feel that Dean Newman bridged the gap so well,” she said.

Newman also created an Office of Education and Community Outreach (OECO), a service unit of the College dedicated to extending the University's cultural resources to the broader educational and civic communities. Marie Sparks, director of administration and the OECO, commented that, under Dean Newman’s leadership, the office collaborates with regional and national partners to introduce programming and networking opportunities that address a range of educational needs.

Newman also founded the Office of Student Services, as well as a Technology Office and hired the requisite personnel to staff them. Linda Davidson, assistant dean for Student Services and Communications for the College, said her office was designed to serve as a resource to guide students from the application process to graduation…and beyond.

"It was part of Dean Newman's vision for the college,” said Davidson, “to create a centralized office for Student Services that would serve as an information clearinghouse and assist students at all stages of their academic career.

“Over the past 19 years, our student services’ programs have grown to provide scholarships, career services and events such as Arts Days, Conversations with the Dean, a Student Research Symposium and Convocation,” she added. “The office then further expanded to generate communications to all stakeholders including news and opportunities within the College.”

Rodriguez, Baldwin, Davidson and Sparks are among the many College staff who agree that, while Newman may be gone physically after retiring, he won’t soon be forgotten as he leaves behind a lasting legacy.

Rodriguez noted what a coup it was for Montclair State to be able to build the Segal Gallery, to be enjoyed by students and the community for years to come.

Baldwin noted that, by launching a program such as the CRC, Newman  fulfilled the ultimate mission of an academic dean, which is to seek out and support the strengths of his faculty and then champion their efforts so they can realize their greatest potential.

Davidson noted that Newman raised considerable funds to support programs and elevated Montclair State’s profile beyond its borders through national and international outreach, including student performance tours and exchanges.

In announcing Newman’s retirement to the campus, University president Susan A. Cole applauded Newman’s many contributions, specifically citing his outreach efforts.

“He has been very active in encouraging the College’s international collaborations and in connecting the Arts programs to professional organizations throughout the region,” she stated. “Dean Newman has always been an enthusiastic spokesperson for the University, as well as for the College of the Arts, and he has been deeply committed to supporting the academic and artistic development of the College’s students.”  

Cole added that Newman would be missed for more than his professional skills.

“In addition to his academic leadership, Dean Newman brought spirit, humor, and loyalty to his role, and his participation and presence in the affairs of the University will be much missed,” Cole said.

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Writing the Next Chapter

While assuring his colleagues at Montclair State that he will “still be around,” Newman said he plans to do some consulting and pursue other interests, including writing and traveling. He said he is most anxious to start penning his own story as he feels it’s important to share.

Born in Oberlin, Ohio, Newman moved to Washington, D.C., when he was three years old. He is quick to note life was different then, especially for African-Americans, although the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum at the time. It was a time of segregation in the public schools with Newman himself being pulled out of one school and placed in one that was newly integrated.  He recalls crying often to his mother, herself a schoolteacher, about the jeers and taunts from the teacher and other students.  That was the first of other challenging events to come in his formative years that might have dissuaded and derailed him from forging on his eventual path. However, Newman credits both his parents with instilling a strong can-do attitude in him from a young age, which empowered him with a will and determination to overcome adversity.

“I had very strong parents who were very supportive,” he said. “My mother told me, ‘Don’t let anyone else define you; you define yourself. ’ ”

It is a lesson that stayed with him throughout his life and which he credits with having brought him so far. Newman, a product of what he refers to as “Renaissance training,” learned to sing, play the trombone and violin, has a working knowledge of the fine, visual, literary and performing arts, and mastered two languages. In addition, he:

  • Received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Howard University, a master of arts from Wayne State University and a Ph.D. from Howard University;
  • Was an Owen Duston Distinguished Professor at Wabash College and chairman of the Department of Drama at Howard University; 
  • Completed Harvard University’s Institute for Educational Management Certification program;
  • Served as artistic director and producer of 100-plus theatrical productions in professional, educational and community arenas nationally and abroad;
  • Received numerous awards and accolades, including the Amoco Award for Theatrical Excellence;
  • Received U.S. State Department commendations and ambassadorship declarations from N.J. for his international performance tours;
  • Is a published author in professional journals;
  • Served as a consultant for noted arts and educational organizations; and
  • Served on numerous professional and community boards, including the International Council of Fine Arts Deans.

He wants to share his story in the hopes it will inspire others.

“Every student here has a story [to tell] and each one is [important],” he said. “That’s what I want to do. My parents are gone and I’m the only one left. I want to tell my story.”

Until then, his advice to the College’s students is to live in the present.

“You have to be ready to take advantage of today, living in the here and now,” he says.

He encourages students to take advantage of all the great things an arts education affords.

“The arts allow you to find your inner voice, who you are, and be in touch with your emotions and intellectual understanding,” Newman explained. “It’s a way for you to communicate what makes you unique. It’s transformative. The arts bring out the creative spirit inside us.”

He also urges them to trust in themselves, strive to reach their maximum potential, and calls upon them to take risks.

“Take risks—the greater the risk, the greater the return,” he said.

As for himself, Newman plans to take all of his own advice and is eagerly looking forward to all the new challenges and experiences retirement will bring.

 “Bring it on,” he says. “I don’t want to miss a nanosecond.”

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University faculty, students, community and friends will gather on Wednesday, May 2, to honor Dean Geoffrey Newman. (View Invitation/RSVP.)

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