Saving the New School's Sinking Flagship
The New School for Social Research was once the crown jewel of our university. It was the school of Hannah Arendt and Erich Fromm. But during Bob Kerrey’s presidency, the university administration has neglected NSSR in favor of building up the profile, enrollment and funding of the undergraduate divisions, especially Parsons and Eugene Lang.
Kerrey believed, along with many others at the university, that in order to make The New School a world-class institution with a strong academic and financial base, it needed a robust undergraduate community. And if that was the end goal, he succeeded: under Kerrey, undergraduate applications rose by roughly 60 percent, and enrollment has increased by 46 percent between 2001 and 2010.
But now that the undergraduate program has achieved the growth Kerrey sought, it’s time to take the next step and return some of the focus to the graduate program that was once our flagship.
Universities generally consider their graduate students an investment, and therefore tend to give them the funding they need to focus on their work. However, as reported elsewhere in this issue, NSSR’s students suffer from a crippling lack of financial support. According to the University’s 2010 Factbook, 72 percent of all undergraduate students received financial aid, while only 17 percent of NSSR’s Ph.D. students were fully funded (received full tuition support) and only 39 percent received a stipend — both of which are standard for all Ph.D. students at New York University, Columbia, the University of Chicago and American University.
With most of the university’s resources redirected toward the development and promotion of the undergraduate divisions, little of the growth has thus far benefited graduate students. The University Center will create 354,000 square feet of direly-needed space, but primarily for undergraduate students, leaving graduate students to wonder if their space concerns will ever be met.
The New School for Social Research shouldn’t suffer for the undergraduate program’s success, but rather, should be fed by it.
The New School was once a disjointed confederacy of fiefdoms, their connections to each other largely symbolic. But now, as part of President David Van Zandt’s declared effort toward a more cohesive whole — where “the value of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” — priorities should shift: money brought in by the bolstered undergraduate divisions should help raise NSSR’s funding to a comparable level.
The university shouldn’t abandon its pursuit of undergraduate excellence. If it did, the priorities would need to shift again in 10 more years. Instead, the graduate and undergraduate programs should grow in stride, the heightened profile of one helping to bring in funding for the other, and vice versa. We shouldn’t have to choose which one to nurture — there’s no reason we can’t have both.