The 'New' New School / by Kiersten Nash

A Theory of Action Since its (relatively) humble beginnings in a row of six adjacent brownstones lining West 23rd Street, The New School has embraced a grandiose agenda—to cultivate “an unbiased understanding of the existing order—its genesis, growth, and present working" that is capable of redirecting “the established order of things.”  Essentially, to engage in the revolution of democracy.

  "Research School to Open". The New York Times 30 September 1919.

"Research School to Open". The New York Times 30 September 1919.

Conceived in direct response to the “exigent circumstances” of a post-World War I America paralyzed by the censorship and suppression of the Nationalist agenda, The New School aspired to provide a space from which "new history" could emerge. Emancipated from the academic apparatus of President Nicholas Butler's administration at Columbia University, the founders—Charles Beard, John Dewey, Thorsten Veblen, and James Robinson—believed this new history "would create an awareness of the achievements of the past and of the possibility of progress of the future." The project was situated at the margins of higher education, and society, in order to advance "an alternative to conventional American University education—"a New School." In 1933, Director Alvin Johnson, with financial support from Hiram J. Halle and The Rockefeller Foundation, responded to the repression and [re]configuration of German academia under the National Socialist Revolution by extending “non-quota” visas and appointments to individuals who were "deprived of the opportunity of functioning by the political requirements, real or imaginary, of any country.” Under the auspice of The University in Exile, individuals were afforded “the freedom of intellectual inquiry, the defense of human rights, and the pursuit of international understanding as an avenue toward peace.”  

Like Obama's 'Yes We Can' video and Cuomo's 'New New York' video (no longer available online), Provost Ben Lee successfully assembled his convocation address to fold The New School's past into the present, in attempt to frame future possibilities: “What has always differentiated The New School from other institutions of higher learning is our institutional imperative to seek out the most relevant and pressing challenges facing society and our willingness to engage them in ways that structurally transform the institution and how we teach...The New New School will unlock the university’s creativity and intellectual energy by creating a site for pedagogical innovation." Lee explained that this ontological pursuit would be advanced through two integrated initiatives: university-wide programs in media studies, management and policy, arts and performance, urban and environmental studies, and international affairs; and second, "a new New School building to house them."

According to Lee's theory of action, The New New School and its attendant University Center would: "…double total academic space with the addition of 500,000 square feet of performance, learning, library, faculty, and university-wide spaces; create a site for pedagogical innovation that unlocks the university’s creativity and intellectual energy; be the space where the global and local meet; become the space in which design, social science, performance, humanities, and the liberal arts intertwine; adhere to the highest environmental standards; and serve as a teaching tool that functions as the cornerstone of a global environmental program with a distinctive urban focus." So that, Lee continued, "students…will develop a combination of capacities that allow them to: identify and define problems and analyze their historical, cultural, political, and economic roots; design and plan for solutions, participate in their implementation, and assess their impact over time" Lee concluded, "The New New School will be a holding environment for pedagogical innovation that will not only transform The New School, but also be a model for higher education in a globalizing world."

   The New School University Center . 65 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 2012.

The New School University Center. 65 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 2012.

In the Fall of 2013, Ben Lee's theory of action will be interpreted in action as an Art Media and Technology Collab:° The University Center. "In the context of The New School’s newly constructed LEED-Gold University Center, this interdisciplinary graduate studio," according to Parsons' Fall 2013 Course Catalogue, "will draw upon social science analysis and design to study the complexities of the indoor environment and reveal the ways human behavior impacts the sustainability° of a building. Students will work in interdisciplinary teams to design, construct, and install within the building objects, environments, and services that provoke more sustainable° behaviors and attitudes—and in turn policies and practices—that better align operations with intended performance. These interventions will draw from an exploration of social and behavioral psychology, architecture, art, design, engineering, and technology throughout the semester. Prototypes will be evaluated based on their capacity to: expose assumptions about our personal influence as building occupants, unveil invisible systems, mitigate environmental impacts and, in some cases, yield a return on investment."