Thursday, September 8, 2005
Thank you for coming. Youve made Doris Suarez very happy.
Convocation marks the beginning of the school year. This is the moment we come back together as a community. It is a time to reflect on our purpose, to celebrate our success, and to praise the most essential part of our university: our faculty.
This is my fifth Convocation and I am more committed than ever to leading The New School. I am proud of our accomplishments and eager to tell you about our plans for the future. At the beginning of my remarks and with great appreciation I want to thank our Trustees, Boards of Governors, and donors: We are indebted to you and grateful for your invaluable service and never-ending generosity.
Before going further I wish to ask for a moment of silence to remember those who perished in Hurricane Katrina or who continue to suffer as a consequence of the storms damage.
This natural disaster has provoked more than an anguished compassion for human loss and tragedy. It has also provoked questions that are important for our university. Questions such as how and where we design our cities, about the wisdom of the engineering solutions we have devised to manage the unpredictable changes in the stream flow of our largest river basin, about our Federal energy policies and about the equity of our social and economic policies.
At the core of what we do here at The New School is to prepare men and women to participate in creative democracy. In particular we are concerned with issues and challenges faced by people who choose to live in large cities. And the hard truth about the damage and destruction in New Orleans is that most of it came as a consequence of flawed human planning and preparation.
Our highest hope is that while they are here our students will acquire the capacity to participate in answering questions such as these and that they will sustain the commitment necessary to succeed. This hope will become reality through the teaching and guidance of our faculty. Later this afternoon we will honor four faculty members with Teaching Excellence Awards. Their accomplishments are illustrative of the remarkable talent of our entire faculty -- we applaud you for your fine work on behalf of our students.
We are very pleased, as always, to see the familiar faces of our students. You are our inspiration, our reason for being.
And, of course, I must mention our tireless administrators and staff we could not do what we do without your enthusiasm, teamwork, and professionalism. Thank you.
Today marks the beginning of a new era. As we extend a warm welcome to the class of 2009, we also launch our new identity as The New School. In doing so, we return to our roots and our unique and esteemed place in history.
The New School for Social Research was founded in 1919 on strong convictions - unbending intellectual rigor, free and articulate expression, and a basic training in skills that make democracy work. The new university identity has been designed to express our core beliefs more emphatically. We are a university with unique strengths in the arts, and a place where the new and the unconventional have always felt at home. Our new identity will reflect the style and verve and energy that keep The New School alive. Each school and college is an indivisible part of the larger university. We are not simply eight adjacent schools. We are a university united in the cause of creativity and invention.
This new identity is no substitute for the need to make the effort necessary to remain true to our traditions while making essential change happen where it is demanded either by our students, faculty, the needs of the community in which we live and our collective ideas about what The New School should be doing today and in the future. This will require us to collaborate, to listen to and trust one another, and to constantly set the bar for our personal and collective performance higher than it was yesterday.
The New School is the name that began this wildly successful experiment in education as an instrument of social change nearly a century ago. That all schools now share that simple, powerful name denotes the critical mass of collaboration we have reached, which will continue to propel this singular center of learning into further realms of creative substance. You may be enrolled at Lang, or Parsons, or Jazz; but you will belong to the whole. The way is open for your interests and ideas to forge new paths of interdisciplinary inquiry throughout the university, and then beyond.
We begin our new academic year on the heels of last years successes. We are stronger academically and administratively as a consequence of the work of faculty and administrators, with the input and support of students, Trustees, and friends. We are confident and optimistic about the future of the university. We have set clear priorities that connect to our traditions of critical thinking, engagement in important public global debates, and our responsibilities to the community of New York City.
At the heart of our mission and our goals are our academic programs. We have a mosaic of current academic initiatives, a few of which I will mention briefly:
We are implementing an undergraduate curriculum that will better prepare our students for active roles in solving the myriad problems associated with globalism. Globalism is a multi-faceted and relatively recent phenomenon that presents us with a long and growing list of important but, as yet, unanswered questions. We are thinking about ways to make the work of such entities as the Trans-Regional Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, the India China Institute, the World Policy Institute, and the Graduate Program in International Affairs contribute more coherently, consistently, and powerfully to the academic and public programming of the university.
We are developing strength in environmental studies and will be adding natural sciences to our curriculum, as well, since active citizenship and leadership are unimaginable without a significant level of scientific literacy.
We intend to become the destination for students who want to develop expertise in writing. I chair the College Board's Commission on Writing and we know from surveys by the Business Roundtable and the National Governors Association that men and women who have mastered this skill are becoming more valuable in the workplace and society.
Many of you have no doubt noticed some important changes around the campus. Rather than go through an extensive list of projects, I will mention two that are central to our master plan:
I am pleased to report that we are well on our way to realizing our dream to create a signature academic building on Fifth Avenue. The most important reason students choose to enroll at our university is our location in New York, and this new building will without question transform our presence in this great city. It will anchor our campus in the Village, while making possible important student services, such as much needed athletic facilities, and a state of the art digital library.
Another project that is very important to the Universitys visibility in the city has proceeded this summer almost invisibly. The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, encompassing the entire street level of the four-building complex that marks the Universitys presence at 13th Street and Fifth Avenue, will, when completed, have beautiful large windows looking into a rejuvenated and enlarged entrance space that will showcase the work produced by Parsons students.
As we look to the future, our vision is to build a challenging undergraduate program that will prepare men and women to engage in constructive, creative, and rewarding work to make our global village more just, habitable, peaceful, and prosperous. Our vision is to leverage the great traditions of The New School, along with the strengths of New York City, to create academic programs that are urgently needed at a time when critical thinking, an understanding of world history, and analytic skills are in too short supply. Our vision is to take advantage of the natural synergy among the social sciences, humanities, and design, to form programs that will increase the demand of private, government, and not-for-profit employers for our graduates.
I am excited about our future, because I believe we are living at a time and in a world that demands and requires that we think not just of ourselves and our own concerns but of the well-being of others, whether they be students, faculty and staff members, inhabitants of this great city and nation, or fellow human beings across the globe. In addition, I am speaking of the many students who will follow in your path.
Today we begin a new relationship. This is a valuable, once in a lifetime opportunity. I want to spark a desire this afternoon in each one of you to look beyond personal concerns, to become more compassionate and aware, and to pursue knowledge and gain skills that will make a direct and lasting contribution to humanity.
In my role as president of this university, I strive to look outside the box in order to see the larger picture. I urge you to do the same. Ask yourself: How can I contribute to the people around me? What can I do to make a positive impact? How can I add to the excellence of this University? How can I be a better human being? Who inspires me? How can I help to pave the way for the future?
Most important for me is that we must resist the tendency to follow, rather than lead. The other evening at a Milano event Dean Fred Hochberg arranged for entrepreneur and social activist Kenneth Cole to speak to our students and faculty. He told a story about his mother calling him on his cell phone while he was driving on a freeway. Be careful out there, she warned, The news is reporting that someone is driving the wrong way on your highway. Oh, Mom, he answered. It isnt just one driver. There are hundreds going the wrong way.
Rather than just go with the traffic or against it, we must be brave enough to forge an entirely new path. I hope you will join me in the rich, exciting and contentious dialogue necessary to determine our ideal direction. And to our students: I hope as well that your college years are fulfilling beyond your wildest expectations and that you leave with wonderful memories, lifelong friendships, and a commitment to an ongoing and lasting relationship with The New School.