The New School Convocation
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Welcome and thank you for being here to mark the beginning of the new academic year. It is wonderful to have the students on campus and feel the energy returning to our hallways and sidewalks.
At the outset I want to express gratitude to President Kerrey for his leadership over a decade in which the university has progressed considerably in terms of its academic profile and direction.
Ten years ago we did not have a university faculty senate or a student senate.
Ten years ago we had no common promotion policy for faculty.
Ten years ago the idea of the divisions working together to develop unique approaches to thematic curricula was unthinkable.
Ten years ago our liberal arts college was just beginning to build the social and natural sciences into the curriculum.
Ten years ago the social science and the design divisions saw little common ground and graduate programs in design barely existed.
Ten years ago we had nowhere near the array of opportunities for global academic partnerships that we have today and our focus was far more narrowly on Europe.
And the list goes on. Bob, you threw down a lot of challenges and I would like to think we were able to respond at least a few of them and we are a much better university for having done so. Thank you.
Now let me lay out some of the key academic priorities for the coming year. Central is the completion of the academic plan itself, which the President and I will be sharing with the community for comment. I want to highlight a few major areas of focus the coming year.
First: We will complete the last section of the Faculty Handbook: everybody's favorite workload policy. It may sound like less-than compelling work but it is extremely important. We are a university that looks to the full-time faculty to help develop and administer this institution to a very high degree, yet we need to balance this with the paramount need to support faculty members' fullest engagement in teaching and scholarship.
A second major project this year is to continue to strengthen the support infrastructure for research. Last year we launched several new funding initiatives to support general research, experimentation in pedagogy, and academic events, and we went a long way toward regularizing research funding for all full-time faculty. This year we will build greater capacity with a dedicated research director in the Provost's Office to help link and facilitate external research funding opportunities.
A third goal is to improve our ability to facilitate the academic work that crosses, or is outside of our present structural boundaries - principally in the areas of curriculum development, teaching, and scholarship. For instance, we are developing ideas for research clusters - forums for faculty to come together around common interests and where junior faculty can find mentorship for their interdisciplinary approaches. We will also formalize the operational plan for the new thematic undergraduate programs, so that all stakeholders are engaged in their development and delivery.
The New School continues to have a substantive contribution to make to the future of higher education. That said, the challenges are significant and the critics of college and university education writ large are not letting up. The established models are too expensive, too specialized, too general, not accountable, too entrenched, and either too disconnected from the marketplace or too driven by it.
Two recent contributors to this discussion I have been reading recently are Anya Kamenetz with her book DIY U and Mark C. Taylor's op-ed pieces in the New York Times over the past couple of years. Kamenetz discusses the structural, economic, social, and technological issues that she contends will dramatically reshape the landscape of higher education, while Taylor begs us to completely rethink the structure of programs and of universities themselves in order to address the pressing issues and problems confronting society.
Kamenetz points out that the future growth of higher education will come from the 85% of students deemed "non-traditional -" those over the age of 25 and ethnic minorities. She also cites Department of Education research indicating that techno-hybridization - or blended onsite and online learning - delivers better learning outcomes than either approach on its own. She argues that students have both reasons and opportunities to rebel against the increasing expense of higher education by accessing the rapidly growing online and extra-institutional resources to create an education increasingly of their own design. Finally, Kamenetz foresees that economic imperatives will force universities to become increasingly specialized and then collaborate strategically with each other.
For Taylor universities are the repositories of significant intellectual assets of society and therefore should be organized to address the world's greatest challenges: water, poverty, economic crises, environmental threats, and so on. In his view it is of far greater value to deliberately organize education in direct relation to contemporary issues than in the pursuit of knowledge within traditional disciplines.
While I certainly do not subscribe to all aspects of their respective positions, these and many of the other proposals for, and critiques of, the academy swirling around us can be both excitingly provocative and worryingly simplistic. One way or another The New School has a long legacy of being an actor in this drama - I think we expect it of ourselves and I am constantly reminded that colleagues outside of The New School hope and expect this of us. We have been challenging, experimenting with, and indeed shaping new approaches to education for decades.
Our past and present bears this out both in terms of who we are engaging and how we serve them. We started out appealing to adult learners and over the years have tailored programs to transfer students, career changers, and international and pre-college students. While we are slowly improving our ability to reach underserved segments of the population such as ethnic minorities and the economically disadvantaged, we have a very long way to go. For a New York City institution founded on principals of access this is both a challenge and an opportunity going forward.
Programmatically, we were the first institution in the U.S. to offer several of our design and professional degrees. We had our first international campus in the 1920s; we were early adopters of online learning; and we are now looking to build site-line education where the onsite dimension extends the global campus. We are integrating thematic, disciplinary, creative and professional curricula to create new approaches to education and increased opportunities for all undergraduate students. We have again struck out into new territory this year with the highly successful launch of three design masters degrees that are firsts in the U.S. - degrees that combine critical theory, social action, and design - that are made possible by being within The New School. And we have a remarkable number of new programs scheduled to launch in the coming years.
And lastly we will continue to critique how learning and scholarship is enacted here. We will be incubating new approaches to learning and to research and creating institutional space for experiments, and partnering with institutions wrestling with similar questions. I hope you agree that this is both necessary and exciting. The intellectual evolution of our university is ongoing.
I want to thank you for being part of The New School and for what you contribute simply by choosing to teach and to learn here. And to whatever degree you want to be active in the dialogue to shape our future, I am especially grateful for that. It is challenging but also a lot of fun. I look forward to our work together this year.