The old building at 65 5th Avenue was awkward, badly lit, uninspiring, and ultimately, unsustainable. Of course the old building was never intended to serve as a functional academic facility. Until 1968, the building was used as a department store; ultimately, the University purchased and renovated the property to house the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research.
Despite the building’s initial faults, it became a place with real history. A space where scholars researched, wrote, instructed, organized, strategized, and creatively challenged the status quo. Such a location was bound to hold some resonance from all that activity. Undoubtedly, much was demolished, hauled-off, and replaced by our new shining signature building, but what remains is what matters most – the inspiration and energy of students and faculty to create anew.
My own memories from the old building as a Liberal Studies student were exciting and formative. I collaborated with peers (many who became longtime friends) to host conferences, edit magazines, and attend events. I heard a host of provocative lecturers and thinkers, (e.g., Ward Churchill, Slavoj Zizek, Jean Baudrillard, and Edward Said). After those lectures, we’d continue our late conversations and debates over beers late into the night. We were instructed and advised by renowned and dedicated teaching faculty (e.g., James Miller, Melisa Monroe, Robin Blackburn, and Christopher Hitchens). Despite how enjoyable these days were, I feel no nostalgia for them.
After all, the past is not where the New School exists. Certainly our rich history should be celebrated and studied so as to guide and inspire us, but we must always remember this university is a place where the old is consistently challenged and reimagined to make way for “the new.” Invariably, change is not always going to be popular, nor is it always for the best; however, we must learn from such failures as we build on what works.
We are a university with great potential: located in a thriving metropolis, equipped with working facilities, and staffed by a committed administrative, promotional, and facilities staff. Talented teaching faculty guide and instruct ambitious and engaged students. Our rich history and future challenges, inspires, and provokes us to become more. Admittedly, we are not perfect – everything can be improved on.
The new “university center” is a fine example of such improvements, it is a naturally bright, uplifting, and promisingly, functional building. Currently, it is –like the university itself—very much a work in progress. But eventually, the drilling, pounding, and sparks will stop to be replaced by the sounds of projects that will be produced, provocative conversations that will be had, and many clicking keyboards from eager minds that will continue to think great thoughts.
I am here because I want to be part of this project. I want to be a part of a university that is not only accountable for its excellence, but guided by a commitment to social justice, innovation, and real change. I want to be part of a school where change is not only studied, but actualized as public engagement. I want our students to have the best services and advising for their own unique interests.
So, after almost a decade with The New School do I think our many expectations are being met? Is history being not only studied but also made? Is theory turned into praxis? How ‘non-traditional’ is our approach to education? Are we realistically meeting our own ambitious ideals and goals?
I believe we have succeeded in some areas, but that much work still needs to be done and that many of the tough questions still need to be answered (as well as asked). I am inspired to see the work of student groups researching, meeting, and questioning university administrators and the decisions they make. I strongly feel students should play a more direct role in this process. It is refreshing to see the projects and work from students in the New Challenge, awards for the excellent journalism in The Free Press, and Social Justice Initiatives. Although we are, like most organizations, suffocated by our economic restrictions (and often unsavory obligations), we are at least not afraid to imagine and experiment with alternative, non-traditional forms of education. Thus, I remain hopeful of our future.
Our mission is not impossible, but it is also something that was never intended to be easy. Our task is to actualize the academic endeavors of our students and faculty. To do this we must be disciplined and creative in our efforts to actualize real change. We shall continue to question old paradigms as we redesign and creatively equip our students to socially and professionally meet the demands of an increasingly competitive and rapidly changing world.