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Jonathan F. Fanton papers

Identifier: NA-0027-01


Jonathan F. Fanton (1943 - ) was the president of The New School from 1982 until 1999. This collection contains material documenting his career as a university and charitable foundation administrator at Yale University, the University of Chicago, The New School, Human Rights Watch, the MacArthur Foundation, Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and other organizations.


  • 1934-2018
  • Majority of material found within 1965-2018



27.1 Cubic Feet (21 boxes, 3 folders, and 3 video recordings)

2 VHS Cassettes

1 DVDs

Language of Materials


Content Description

These papers document the life and work of Jonathan Foster Fanton, president of The New School from 1982 until 1999. They were compiled by Fanton over the course of his career, and were stored in a barn and in the attic at his former home in Greenfield Hill, a suburb of Fairfield, Connecticut. The papers contain little from Fanton’s childhood, personal or family life, instead focusing on his professional career as a university and charitable foundation administrator. The bulk of this collection is composed of documents relating to board meetings of various organizations Fanton worked with, drafts and copies of speeches given by Fanton, and professional correspondence. There are also many “trip reports”: essay-length accounts of Fanton’s travels for the MacArthur Foundation, The New School, and others.

The collection is divided into eight series, corresponding to different stages in Fanton’s career:

Series I. Personal files contains files from multiple periods of Fanton’s life. It includes his appointment books, which briefly list meetings and appointments from 1971 until 1994, copies of his curriculum vitae and resume, and a list of speeches he made up to 1999. This series also contains a draft of Fanton’s memoir, or “vignettes,” as Fanton referred to them, illustrating aspects of his life. Of particular interest in his memoir are the chapters pertaining to his childhood, his time at Yale University, and his relationship with civil rights activist and Baptist minister Jesse Jackson.

Series II. covers 1965 until 1978, as a student and administrator at Yale University, and contains copies and drafts of his undergraduate thesis, on the United States federal government's Depression-era agency, the National Youth Administration, and his PhD thesis, on United States Secretary of Defence Robert A. Lovett’s career during World War II. It also contains notes related to history courses taught by Fanton at Yale, and some administrative documents. These administrative documents do not cover his relationship with his boss and mentor, Yale University president Kingman Brewster, or involvement with the campus police during the protests of the late 1960s, in much detail. Much of this material is instead located at the Archives at Yale.

Series III. covers Fanton’s position as vice president of planning at the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1982, and also includes documents pertaining to his teaching of American history there. This series contains many speeches given by Fanton to alumni groups, and to committees within the University of Chicago. There are also many folders of correspondence between Fanton and various deans, and with trustees, at the university.

Series IV. covers Fanton’s presidency at The New School from 1982 to 1999. This series includes documentation on the planning of Fanton’s inauguration as president, as well as some concerning his resignation and farewell. It also contains documents from after 1999, reflecting his continued relationship with the university, including documents related to The New School’s centennial year in 2019. Of particular interest in this series are the 1986 report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression (the "Katznelson report," named after the chair of the committee, the political scientist and former New School professor and dean of the Graduate Faculty, Ira Katznelson) outlining The New School's policy on free speech, documents pertaining to Fanton’s book The University and Civil Society, a video of a television interview with Fanton concerning his role in New York City's Union Square Local Development Corporation, and his correspondence with many figures from The New School during this period.

Series V. concerns Fanton’s involvement with Human Rights Watch, a human rights watchdog organization and sucessor to Helsinki Watch, where he was chairman of the board from 1997 until 2003. These folders include correspondence, extensive documents concerning various board and committee meetings, and policies, reports and correspondence concerning some of Human Rights Watch’s more controversial decisions in this period, including their condemnation of Israel and their policy on economic, social and cultural rights. It does not contain documents pertaining to Fanton’s involvement with Helsinki Watch, the predecessor of Human Rights Watch prior to 1988.

Series VI. covers Fanton’s tenure as president of the MacArthur Foundation from 1999 until 2009, and contains copies of many of the reports Fanton wrote on his travels on behalf of the Foundation. Of particular interest are documents pertaining to Fanton’s book The Foundation and Civil Society, Fanton’s extensive writings on his visits to Nigeria, and correspondence relating to an editorial criticizing the foundation in the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper.

Series VII. covers Fanton’s term as interim director, and later visiting fellow, at Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, City University of New York from 2009 until 2014. This series contains extensive correspondence and documents pertaining to events hosted at Roosevelt House. Of particular interest are draft questions and other documents pertaining to the speaker series “Conversations with Interesting People,” originally titled, “The Most Interesting People I Know,” a series of public interviews Fanton conducted at Roosevelt House with accomplished or otherwise notable people he knew in a personal capacity, including New York City mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins, and restaurateur Danny Meyers. Also included are many documents from other organizations Fanton was involved with at the time, including his work with Scholars at Risk, Safe Water Network, the European University of St. Petersburg and the International Criminal Court. The series also includes documents from some charitable funds for which he consulted or otherwise advised, including the Newman’s Own Foundation, The Wolfsonian, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Series VIII. covers Fanton’s term as president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 2014 until 2019, as well as his work with the Asian Cultural Council where he served as a board member, the American Philosophical Society to which he was made a member in 2015, the Social Science Research Council, and the World Refugee Council, among other institutions.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. One file with materials related to a potential donor is restricted for 20 years from date of creation, and another file is restricted for 50 years because it contains information about faculty salaries, in accordance with The New School Archives’ confidentiality policy. Please contact for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact:

Biographical Note

Jonathan Foster Fanton was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1943, and grew up in Fairfield County, Connecticut, where his family had lived since the seventeenth century. His father, Dwight Fanton, was a labor lawyer, who served on the prosecution for the Dachau Tribunal. His mother Roma F. Fanton was a real estate broker. He has two sisters: Deborah Joan Fanton and Roma Fanton Hoyt. In 1961, he graduated high school from Choate Rosemary Hall, a private school.

After graduating high school, Fanton attended Yale University, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1965, his MA in Philosophy in 1977, and his PhD in American History in 1978 for the dissertation “Robert A. Lovett: The War Years," for which he was advised by historian John Morton Blum. As an undergraduate at Yale, Fanton was involved in running several initiatives aimed at bringing underprivileged middle and high school students to Yale, including the Ulysses S. Grant Program, a summer school; and a transitional year program for high school students who would not otherwise meet the requirements to attend Yale. These initiatives led to him receiving a Carnegie Teaching Fellowship in 1965 and being appointed coordinator of Yale’s Special Educational Programs in 1968.

In 1970, Fanton was made special assistant to Yale University president Kingman Brewster, executive director of Yale College Summer Programs in 1973, and associate provost in 1976. Under Brewster, Fanton was responsible for coordinating Yale’s response to the student protests of the late 1960s, including the 1970 May Day protest surrounding the New Haven Black Panther trials, Yale’s response to which prompted Richard Nixon to add Brewster to his infamous “enemies list” that was later presented to the Watergate Committee. While at Yale, in 1973, Fanton co-edited his first published work, John Brown: Great Lives Observed.

After receiving his PhD, Fanton moved to the University of Chicago, where he served as vice president for planning and lectured in American history from 1978 until 1982.

In 1982, Fanton was inaugurated as president of The New School, a role he held until his resignation in 1999. At The New School, Fanton made it a priority to re-accredit the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, better integrate the university’s separate divisions, expand the Greenwich Village campus, reduce the school’s dependence on credit to meet operating expenses, and build the endowment. His tenure oversaw the merger of The New School with Mannes College of Music, and the beginning of the school’s drama program and partnership with the Actors Studio. He was also instrumental in orientating the Graduate Faculty towards Eastern and Central Europe, hiring Jeffrey Golfarb, Elzbieta Matynia, Agnes Heller, and Andrew Arato; and overseeing the formation of the original Democracy Seminar and the East and Central Europe Program, which would later become the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies. During this period, he co-chaired the Union Square Local Development Corporation with the former president of The New School, John Everett, as well as chairing the New York Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. While president of The New School, he published the first volume of The University and Civil Society in 1995, and later published a second volume in 2002. He also co-edited The Manhattan Project in 1991.

In the 1980s, Fanton was made chair of the United States Helsinki Watch Committee, the organization that would become Human Rights Watch after 1988. In 1997, he became chairman of the board for Human Rights Watch, a role he served in until 2003, after which he continued to serve on the organization’s Africa Advisory Board until 2015.

After resigning as president of The New School, Fanton became president of the MacArthur Foundation, serving two five-year terms between 1999 and 2009. Fanton was responsible for narrowing the focus of the foundation’s grantmaking, especially internationally. During his tenure, MacArthur focused its efforts on promoting civil society, and particularly higher education, initiatives in countries identified as in transition to democracy—in particular, Russia, Mexico, and Nigeria. In 2008, he published the two-volume work Foundations and Civil Society, collecting many of his writing and speeches for MacArthur.

From 2009 until 2014, Fanton was interim director and Franklin D. Roosevelt Visiting Fellow at the Roosevelt House Institute for Public Policy at Hunter College, City University of New York. Roosevelt House reopened in 2010 after extensive renovations and became a public policy institute, offering degree programs in public policy and human rights and supporting research in those areas. Here he helped develop Hunter College’s public programs, frequently using the space to host events.

From 2014 until 2019, Fanton served as president of the American Academy of Arts and Science, of which he had been a fellow since 1999. He replaced Leslie Berlowitz, who was asked to resign once it was revealed she had lied about her education on her resume, and after complaints about her excessive salary.

In 2015, Fanton was made a member of the American Philosophical Society. He has also served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, as chair of Scholars At Risk, and on the boards of World Policy Institute and the Asian Cultural Council, as well as the advisory committee to the Social Science Research Council and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. He has also served on advisory boards for Safe Water Network, The Wolfsonian, European Humanities University, Newman’s Own Foundation and many other organizations.

He is married to Cynthia Fanton (née Greenleaf), a lawyer. As of 2023, he lives in New Haven, Connecticut.


Coalition for the International Criminal Court .“Dr. Jonathan Fanton.” 2011. Accessed March 15, 2023,

Fanton, Jonathan F. “Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the 30th Anniversary of Moscow Helsinki Group,” 2002. Accessed March 15, 2023,

… “Dwight Fanton Memorial,” 2013. Accessed March 15, 2023,

“Records of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.” National Archives, College Park, Maryland

“Jonathan F. Fanton, President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation: Terrorism, Civil Society, and International Security.” Philanthropy News Digest, 2002. Accessed March 15, 2023,

“Staff Directory.” Roosevelt House, 2023a. Accessed March 15, 2023,

“Mission.” Roosevelt House, 2023b. Accessed March 15, 2023,

Wallack, Todd (2014). “American Academy of Arts and Sciences picks new president.” Boston Globe. April 17. Accessed March 15, 2023,

“Extraordinary Alumnus to Lead the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.” Yale, 2014. Accessed March 15, 2023,


Organized in eight series. With the exception of Series 1. Personal files, the series are arranged chronologically, covering a primary phase of Fanton's professional career. Files within each series are arranged alphabetically: 1. Personal files; 2. Yale University; 3. University of Chicago vice president of planning and history lecturer; 4. New School president; 5. Human Rights Watch chairman of the board; 6. MacArthur Foundation president; 7. Roosevelt House interim director and visiting fellow; 8. American Academy of Arts and Sciences president.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to The New School Archives by Jonathan F. Fanton in 2021.

Related Materials

The New School Archives holds significant documentation both by and associated with Jonathan Fanton, created during the period in which he served as president of The New School. These include the Office of the President records (NS.01.01.03); New School Office of the President Board of Trustees records and other files (NS.01.01.04); New School central administration collection (NS.01.01.05); Malcolm Carter University Communications records (NS.03.01.06); New School photograph collection (NS.04.01.01); and New School Office of the President commencement records (NS.05.05.02). A two-part oral history interview with Fanton conducted in 2017 will be found in the New School oral history program collection (NS.07.01.01).

Processing Information

The series in this collection broadly reflects the way that Jonathan Fanton organized and stored his files. File names have been retained, in substance, although many have been revised to spell out names, organization and committee acronyms, and to regularize word order in order to bring related files together.

Guide to the Jonathan Fanton papers
Jack Wells
June 8, 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description