I teach at The New School, a university located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The university has five colleges, and I teach in two of them: the Schools for Public Engagement and Parsons School for Design. Most of my teaching is devoted to the suite of urban programs available at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The New School was founded in 1919 by a small group of intellectuals affiliated with The New Republic magazine and inspired by the work of philosopher John Dewey. Resigning from Columbia University in protest over loyalty oath requirements, the economist Thorstein Veblen and historians Charles Beard and James Harvey Robinson launched The New School for Social Research as an experimental space for adult education, public lectures, and relevant, real-world curriculum. In 1933, The New School created the "University in Exile" (see photograph above), and hosted the École Libre des Hautes Études, for refugee intellectuals fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany. These extraordinary thinkers formed the nucleus of the Graduate Faculty and an advanced center for the social sciences.
Throughout the twentieth century, the scrappy little institution grew by providing shelter to renowned independent colleges and schools that would have otherwise closed down. In this way, it 'reverse-engineered' itself into a university. Over time, it incorporated the Mannes School of Music, Parsons School of Design (which has a campus in Paris as well), the Actor's Studio (today's New School for Drama), the School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and the Center for New York City Affairs, which continues today as the Milano School of Management, Policy, and Environment. Responding to rising demand in the late 1960s, The New School began offering courses for younger undergraduates through the Seminar College (today's Eugene Lang College). It also launched internationally renowned programs in Writing and Media Studies, as well as experimental ventures such as the Institute for Retired Professionals. Undergraduates at The New School pursued independent courses of study until 2007, when the university began offering majors for the first time. Nevertheless, the founding ethos of self-design study continues today in the free-form Bachelor's Program for Adult and Transfer Students.
Beyond the hype and self-promotion that characterizes any university, there really is something special and unique about The New School. Its open character has attracted an incredible collection of teachers, researchers, and practioners over the years, from Berenice Abbott and John Cage, to Lewis Mumford, Hannah Arendt, Charles Abrams, Janet Abu-Lughod, Eric Hobsbawm, Charles Tilly, and Martha Rossler. Whether it is best described as a bold site of experimentation, the 'wild west' of higher education, or the last refuge of the damned, it is always a fascinating and quirky place.