In 2010, The New School launched a new division with the mission of interdisciplinary, practice-based, publicly-engaged education. Originally called the New School for Public Engagement (and now renamed The Schools For Public Engagement), it brought together programs in policy, management, international affairs, media studies, writing, urban studies, environmental studies, food studies and other areas. NSPE included both undergraduate and graduate courses of study. Instead of disciplinary departments, it was organized into broad "schools"--media studies, writing, undergraduate studies, as well as management, policy, and international affairs--that integrated liberal learning, professional training, and creative practice. NSPE reflected The New School's longstanding commitments to public engagement and educational experimentation. I served as its inaugural dean.
The NSPE faculty were (and are) wide-ranging and innovative. They included management consultants and poets, policy experts and critical theorists, international development practitioners and food studies scholars. Forging a common divisional culture and governance system were bracing and exciting challenges. We designed tenure and review policies that rewarded both traditional and heterodox forms of scholarship, creative work, and professional and public practice. We worked to equalize authority and resources between tenure-track and contract faculty. We sought to improve conditions for the huge number of (unionized) part-time faculty in our programs. Faculty development was a crucial component of building such an innovative college.
So was the integration of civic and community engagement. Here's an overview of the wide-ranging public work undertaken by the division's schools, faculty, staff, and students in its first four years. Several initiatives are especially notable. The Humanities Action Lab developed public-humanities projects about contested social issues, including "States of Incarceration," which curated a network of courses, exhibitions, and projects on twenty different campuses. The Social Innovation Initiative created curricular and co-curricular programs about social entrepreneurship and design thinking. Its "New Challenge" competition involved hundreds of student teams across The New School in designing innovative social-change projects.
For most of this work, I offered administrative support rather than hands-on leadership. But I did have a direct role in one initiative that proved personally transformative. NSPE included an adult bachelor's program in its School of Undergraduate Studies. I found the program's nontraditional students inspiring in their resilience and commitment to their studies. In response to their concerns, I launched a peer-leadership program designed for adult, working students, the Public Engagement Fellowship, and taught the seminar that was the spine of the Fellowship. After stepping down as dean in 2014, I remained passionate about nontraditional students--the large majority of U.S. undergraduates--and focused my writing and public work on the need to improve their educational opportunities.
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