New School News Interview: Engaging in Public with David Scobey
New School News: Welcome back to campus, David. How was your summer?
David Scobey: Busy! Over the summer, two New School divisions, The New School for General Studies and Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy became one: The New School for Public Engagement, or, in our acronym-friendly world, NSPE.
NSN: Congratulations. What is the new division’s special role at The New School?
DS: NSPE is all about learning in action, learning that engages social issues, and different forms of culture-making around the world.
NSN: What specific programs live at NSPE?
DS: It’s home to undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education programs, everything from urban policy, management, and media studies, to creative writing, and teaching English as a second language. NSPE is also home to The New School’s adult bachelor’s program and an array of continuing education classes, certificate programs, and newer interdivisional programs like environmental and global studies.
NSN: That sounds like quite a mix. What do they all have in common?
DS: What weaves it all into a common fabric is the idea of organizing higher education around interdisciplinary engagement with the larger world. All our programs teach forms of practice, whether creative practice, professional practice, or the liberal arts in practice. I like to describe this as learning in action.,
NSN: Learning in action?, That sounds very New School.
DS: Well, it should. It’s a fundamental principle of this university, an approach to learning that values active citizenship, socially engaged learning, innovation, and interdisciplinary learning. Remember, The New School was founded right after World War I by people who thought higher education was in danger of becoming stale and old-fashioned with no connection to the tumultuous world around them.
NSN: And the world is still pretty tumultuous, isn’t it?
DS: It certainly is. That’s why we ask students to look across disciplinary boundaries, to interrogate and transform the larger world. NSPE programs are organized around contemporary issues and contemporary culture, not academic disciplines.
NSN: That sounds like something that will extend beyond the classroom.
DS: Of course it will. That why our name, New School for Public Engagement, is so resonant for me. It says we learn best, we are at our most creative, when we move back and forth between the university and the world.
Engagement like this can take many forms. For an international affairs, it could mean a summer field program in Buenos Aires or Kampala to work with community-based organizations on problems like natural resources depletion, access to education, promotion of democracy, work which will deepen understanding of the region.
In media studies, it could mean starting a media lab in Hanoi to train neighborhood youth in key communications skills for the 21st century. Closer to home, it could mean shooting a documentary about food activists in Brooklyn.
For undergraduates, engaged learning could be a course taught by a local practitioner on urban agriculture or human trafficking or a seminar that helps develop an online exhibition about the history of Guantanamo Bay.
NSN: So I suppose this means that we’re no longer Eight Schools, One University?,
DS: We’re seven divisions now, but with the same commitment to civic engagement, innovation, and a democratic mission for higher education, values that have been part of our DNA from the start.
NSN: OK, I’m afraid to ask, but why does The New School change names so frequently? Only a few years ago the whole university had a different name.
DS: What was it Emerson said? A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, ? Change is also part of our DNA. The New School for Public Engagement is constantly evolving, just like the university. To me, that’s a sign of health.