Update on University Planning
Dear New School Faculty and Staff:
In April, we began a conversation about the serious financial and operational challenges that The New School faces as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We set out to “reimagine” our university – and, by that, I mean to take bold, transformative actions to become a more sustainable, resilient and efficient version of ourselves. In truth, COVID-19 served to accelerate longstanding challenges with our tuition-dependent model – issues that we would have had to address, even if the virus never occurred. This work is both complex and urgent, requiring that we make decisions quickly and without the extensive process of consultation and iteration that we would normally want to follow. This is why I want to update you on where we are in the reimagining process and what you can expect next.
To begin, I invite you to view this video, which is an excerpt from a recent conversation I had with university leaders (the President’s Leadership Team [PLT], the college Deans, the leadership of the Budget Advisory Council [BAC] and the leadership of the faculty and staff senates) to outline the work we have to do and the courageous, borderless thinking we will need in order to be successful.
The PLT is now engaged in detailed scenario planning that will result in a set of recommendations for how we will not only secure the future of our institution but thrive beyond this pandemic. We plan to present these recommendations to the Board of Trustees in late September and, if approved, announce them more broadly in October. The PLT’s work is being informed and supported by the Deans and leaders of the faculty and staff senates, input from representatives of the BAC, as well as feedback from the community engagement survey and discussion sessions that took place earlier in the summer.
It’s worth taking a step back and being clear about what scenario planning means. Simply put, we will be looking at our institution’s academic portfolio, the organizational structure that supports it, and current and future resources to understand how they might perform and thrive under various economic scenarios – in this case, a 25 percent and 50 percent reduction in our budget. We know that our institution can no longer just tighten our belt and hope to get by – there is no vision and no sustainability in that approach. Instead, we must act in the spirit of innovation that is consistent with The New School’s 100-year legacy as a university dedicated to courageous change. Our focus must be on our students and the core academic mission of the university. This means that decisions we need to make will be bold and, in some cases, painful. They will require that we let go of allegiances to specific programs, colleges, or structures and consider what will support a thriving future for The New School as a whole.
Even though the current planning process is very streamlined, it is informed by university-wide input that has been, and will continue to be, a crucial part of our thinking. As you’ll recall, in June we invited faculty, staff, and students to share perspectives via an online survey and a series of small group discussions. What you made abundantly clear is that there is strong alignment around the values that have shaped our legacy and those must be carried into our future. Our community holds The New School’s progressive ideals and commitment to activating our principles for social justice, equity, and inclusion in high regard; these principles will ground and guide all the planning work we do. The feedback also emphasized a continued focus on innovation, rigorous scholarship, and creativity in what we teach, how we teach, and how we operate. You also underscored the importance of working together toward a higher level of shared governance, communication, and transparency; recommitting to service, support, and community; and rethinking cost and our relationship to New York City. We also heard considerable frustration regarding an overly complex academic structure and the ability for faculty to work across existing disciplinary boundaries and school structures. I encourage you to read the summaries from the surveys and discussion sessions and know that this input and your ongoing engagement is deeply valued, considered, and helpful in shaping decisions and action.
We are being assisted through the reimagining process by Huron Consulting, a firm with a dedicated practice focused on higher education that has worked with more than 500 colleges and universities. I’m aware that the decision to bring in an outside consultant may not sit easily, especially in this time of cost sensitivity; however, our supporting partners bring a breadth and depth of experience, data, and analysis that we simply don’t have internally. Given the kinds of once-in-a-generation decisions that we must make for the future of the university, it is critical to avail ourselves of the very best data about our peers across the higher education sector and the very best analysis. While Huron’s help is essential, I want to underscore that we will be making our own decisions about our reimagined future that will reflect our New School values.
As a next phase of our work, later this month, the PLT, Deans, leaders from the faculty and staff senates, and representatives from the BAC will be engaging in a series of intensive sessions focused on the entire range of operational aspects of the university. Given the importance of this work, we have created a special section of our website to provide convenient access to our previous and future communications about the planning process.
This is a critical moment in our history, and it demands our attention, creativity, and thoughtful input. There will be challenges ahead but we are steadfast in our belief that these changes are necessary for The New School to be able to redraw and redefine the boundaries of intellectual and creative thought for the next 100 years. There is a timeless adage that every crisis presents opportunities, and we are embracing that concept wholeheartedly – undertaking a bold reimagining of the university and building for a vibrant and sustainable future.
Onward and upward.