New Division Forms at New School
In a drastic change to the university’s organizational structure, The New School has merged two of its academic divisions to create The New School for Public Engagement. Formed this summer, the newest division aims to bring social involvement into the classroom and unify students around ideas of civic engagement.
NSPE combines two of The New School’s previous divisions, The New School for General Studies and Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy. Administrators said that the merger of these two divisions had nothing to do with cutting costs, and that no faculty or staff were laid off in the process. Rather, the formation of NSPE is part of the university-wide effort to bolster connections among students of different schools and disciplines.
“The idea was to create a division that wasn’t a traditional liberal arts division and that wasn’t a performing arts and design division, but a kind of third space that combines theory and practice,” said David Scobey, Executive Dean of NSPE. “The division brings together programs that emphasize what I call ‘learning in action.’”
Within NSPE are five different programs: Languages; Media Studies; Undergraduate Studies; Writing; and the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy. According to Scobey, although they don’t all fit together at first glance, each program is designed around similar principles.
“We’ve built the idea of engagement with the larger world right into the division,” Scobey said. “Hopefully that will breed creative ways of educating for social change and democracy.”
The New School hired Scobey last year to oversee the formation of NSPE; for the past 15 years, he has worked in various programs dedicated to the combination of community involvement and academics, making him an excellent fit for the university’s newest division. He admitted that organizing a college around ideas, like civic engagement, is somewhat of an experiment in higher education — most universities organize divisions around departments. But the university is optimistic about the awkward combination of departments that NSPE brings together.
“In one sense, it’s a mix of things you wouldn’t always put together,” said University President David Van Zandt. “But if you have all these different things mixed in, it will be far more creative. It’s really going to get these groups thinking across the programs.”
Since his arrival at the New School earlier this year, Van Zandt has been especially keen on unifying the New School’s different divisions and has encouraged integration among students. At NSPE, students have yet to feel any significant changes as a result of the merger, and many remain ambivalent about how it will work.
“I think everyone has asked whether or not this is a good idea,” said Milano University Student Senate representative Melissa Holmes. “It’s a really disparate group, in one sense, but at the same time you can see a connecting thread between the programs.”
Holmes especially expressed optimism about the combination of Milano with the Graduate Program of International Affairs, which used to be part of NSGS. She mentioned that those two groups of students appear to have a synergy that she hadn’t noticed before. But she also said that it might take some time for Milano students to adjust to their new position in the university.
“It’s difficult being from Milano, in particular,” said Holmes. “We went from being one of the university’s eight divisions to being a program within a division.”
One thing about the new divison that most people seem satisfied with, though, is the name. According to President Van Zandt, administrators debated back and forth last semester about what to name the division before finally deciding on The New School for Public Engagement.
“What an interesting name!” said Holmes. “I think we can embrace that, use it as an opportunity to work together, build a stronger sense of community within the school, and develop into stronger agents of change when we graduate.”