The New School was founded in 1919 by a group of progressive American educators as a "center for discussion and instruction for mature men and women." By 1930, their new school had acquired a special place in the intellectual and cultural life of New York City and a permanent home in Greenwich Village. In 1934, it was chartered as a university by the state of New York and began conferring degrees. Today, The New School is a major urban university of seven academic divisions, enrolling more than 10,000 degree-seeking students and with an additional 6,500 continuing education students taking courses every year.
Of the seven academic divisions of the university, The New School for Public Engagement is the direct successor of the original institution and is motivated by the same progressive values that guided the university's founders in 1919. At the same time, the breadth and depth of its curriculum reflects the historical evolution of the original New School. The first six courses offered in 1919 dealt exclusively with the then-emerging social sciences—the primary interest of the founders. But early on, the curriculum was extended, taking into account the interests of both students and teachers. In its first four decades, The New School was a pioneer among American colleges and universities in offering courses in cinema studies, psychoanalysis, photography, modern dance, Black studies, women's studies, urban policy, and creative writing. Some of the finest minds and most famous artists of the early 20th century taught at The New School—think of Berenice Abbott, John Cage, W.E.B. DuBois, Sandor Ferenczi, Eric Fromm, Martha Graham, Gerda Lerner, Margaret Mead, Frank O'Hara, to name only a few. To this day, many talented teachers and working professionals choose to teach at The New School for Public Engagement as a place where they can explore new ideas with a sophisticated audience.
The division received its current structure and name in 2011, when the Milano graduate school was reunited with what was then called The New School for General Studies. Each of the five schools of NSPE has its own history and background in the larger institution: The School of Undergraduate Studies is the product of a decision by the university in the 1940s to offer a bachelor's degree program to adults and working people who could not attend college full time. The School of Language Learning and Teaching combines a long-established continuing education foreign language curriculum with more recent programs to educate teachers of English as a foreign language. The School of Media Studies can trace its lineage back to 1926, when The New School offered probably the first college course in America devoted to the motion picture, and became an organized curriculum in 1975, when John Culkin brought his Center for Understanding Media here. The Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy evolved from the Center for New York City Affairs, established at The New School in 1964, which became a graduate school of public administration in 1975 and incorporated the Julian Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs in 2010. The School of Writing has its origin in Gorham Munson's groundbreaking writing workshop of 1931, with a direct line to our current innovative master's degree program and undergraduate and continuing education programs.
At the same time, The New School for Public Engagement has continued "educating the educated." We still offer hundreds of courses a year that are open to everyone without any formal admission requirements. In this way, The New School for Public Engagement carries the torch of The New School's founders and their ideal of lifelong education as the sure foundation of a democratic society.
In the 21st century, The New School for Public Engagement is still on the cutting edge of the intellectual and creative life of New York City, connecting theory to practice, supporting innovation in culture and communication, and building bridges to connect the academy and larger community that it exists to serve.
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