New York composer makes bid to become fine arts dean


Santiago Covarrubias

Dean finalist Stefania de Kenessey presented her accomplishments and educational philosophy March 2 at Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

By Campus Reporter

Stefania de Kenessey was a sophomore in high school when her dad found her reading a New York Times article about students who felt unchallenged and bored with school—exactly how she felt. That is when she dropped out of high school and applied to The New School, a New York City university with a freshman year program designed for students who wanted to transfer early to a university. She completed the program and later attended Yale and Princeton universities.

As a dean finalist for Columbia’s School of Fine & Performing Arts, de Kenessey presented her past accomplishments and liberal arts philosophy to the college community in her campus visit March 2 at Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

 “I’ve always been interested in making things better and acknowledging when things are less than perfect, figuring out ways to make something better and just keep building,” de Kenessey said.

De Kenessey has a background in contemporary music, teaching and administration. A noted composer of neo-classical music, she is currently employed at The New School, where she has served in a variety of roles. At the undergraduate level, she is the director of Civic Liberal Arts, a curricular initiative that connects faculty and students with organizations outside the university. She is also special advisor to the provost on faculty mentoring.

There are many similarities between The New School and Columbia, de Kenessey said, because they both have interesting programs, faculty and students but are still relatively unknown in the realm of higher education.

De Kenessey created and oversaw the interdisciplinary “Arts in Context” program, an individually constructed program in which students combined art with a particular social science.

She said she thinks it is important to embed diversity into the college curriculum.

“Rejuvenating curriculum is always important,” de Kenessey said. “We are here because we are thoughtful artists [who] want to have that sense of connection with thoughtful people who are really excited on what we used to be really excited about.”

De Kenessey emphasized the importance of balancing full-time and part-time faculty, matching the interests of faculty and students, and bridging the division between the faculty and administration because they are all in the same boat.

After her presentation, de Kenessey played a self-composedmultimedia opera project she is currently working on and took questions from the college community.

John Green, chair of the Theatre Department, said he was interested in de Kenessey’s experience with international students’ art education because the college is currently developing partnerships with international institutions.

“One of the things we have been doing is developing partnerships with international institutions so that we have student exchanges happening and the curriculum becomes enriched by these exchange programs,” Green said. 

De Kenessey said international students bring new skill sets and ideas with them to the college. She said changes to an institution should be made incrementally, selectively and responsibly.   

Matt Doherty, a lecturer in the Design Department, directed a question to the candidate regarding the implementation of the Strategic Plan. 

“We’re in the Strategic Plan implementation right now; can you comment on your sense and observations of what we are doing at the moment?” he said.

De Kenessey said the plan looks very smart and noted it has a timetable and room for revisions. Her goal is to acquaint herself with the faculty and the curriculum as well as possible so what follows serves the college’s needs, she said.

“I think of being a dean as [being] a conductor of an orchestra,” de Kenessey said. “The conductor of the orchestra does not actually play music at all; the musicians do it far better than the conductor. The conductor  chooses a repertory, tempo and gives the downbeat. It is the job of a musician to take it from there.”