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A Special Supplement: The Old School at The New School

In the lobby of the converted department store that serves as the new home of the Graduate Faculty there is a bronze plaque that reflects the New School’s image of itself:

THE UNIVERSITY IN EXILE

THE GRADUATE FACULTY OF THE NEW SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH

The Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science Had Its Genesis in the University in Exile Which Was Established by the New School for Social Research in 1933 as a Haven for Distinguished European Scholars Persecuted by Totalitarian Governments in Their Homelands. Conceived by Alvin Johnson, Then Director of the New School, and Sustained by the Generosity of Hiram J. Halle, the Rockefeller Family and Many Other Concerned Americans, the University in Exile Made It Possible Prior to and During World War II for One Hundred and Sixty Seven Imperilled Scholars and Their Families to Find Safety and Intellectual Freedom on These Shores. Its Example Was Followed by Other Educational Institutions Resulting in the Rescue of Many of Europe’s Foremost Thinkers and Leaders. Some Exiled Scholars Remained Here as the Nucleus of the Graduate Faculty Which Was Chartered by the University of the State of New York in 1934: Others Who Were Brought Over by the New School Went on to Teaching Positions at Other Universities Enriching the Fabric of Higher Learning in the United States.

This Plaque, Installed on the Occasion of the New School’s Fiftieth Anniversary, Is Dedicated to the Faculty Members and Friends of the University in Exile Who First Formed the Graduate Faculty and, During Its First Decade, Imbued It With Their Devotion to Truth and Human Liberty. They Constitute an Historic Chapter in American Higher Education.

Then follows, in raised bronze letters, the roster of the original faculty:

Rudolph Arnheim

Solomon E. Asch

Max Ascoli

Karl Brandt

Arnold Brecht

Gerhard Colm

Fernando de los Rios

Mario Einaudi

Arthur Feiler

Emil Gumbel

Albert Halasi

Edouard Heimann

Julius Hirsch

Erich Hula

Alvin Johnson

Horace M. Kallen

Herman Kantorowicz

Felix Kaufmann

Alexander Koyre

Ernst Kris

Emil Lederer

Fritz Lehmann

Abba P. Lerner

Nino Levi

Claude Lévi-Strauss

Rudolf Littauer

Adolph Lowe

Jacob Marschak

Carl Meyer

Julie Meyer

Boris Mirkine Guetzevitch

Hans Neisser

Alexander H. Pekelis

Kurt Reizler

Albert Salomon

Gaetano Salvemini

Paul Schreker

Richard Schruller

Alfred Schutz

Hans Simons

Hans Speier

Hans Staudinger

Leo Strauss

Erich Von Hornbostel

Max Wertheimer

Ernst Karl Winter

Frieda Wunderlich

Julius Wyler1

The peculiar distinction of this faculty was in its European émigré origin and in its dedication to the canon of European, predominantly German, scholarship and deportment. But there is a contradiction latent in all such émigré groups: having fled persecution in their homelands, and having found a tolerable environment elsewhere, do they consequently evade all potentially embarrassing political involvement? Does their exile negate their engagement? This paradox is most sharply felt by those scholars who, rightly or wrongly, interpret the Western academic tradition as being necessarily nonpolitical. The academy is their fortress of principled neutrality: as individuals they may choose to take a political position but, as scholars, it is unthinkable and dangerous. This, after all, is the bitter lesson they have learned at home.

The exile readily becomes an exilarch, that is to say a sort of hereditary ruler in the place of exile, recapitulating the culture of the past so far as that is possible, while drawing strength from the mythos of persecution. At the same time, the host society is held at bay. So long as he is tolerated, the exile studiously avoids potential conflicts as a matter of principle. All is subordinated to the memory of the initial trauma. “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” is, after all, the rhetorical American threat in this nation of exiles and “No matter how bad it is here, it is better than in the old country” has been the litany of one immigrant generation after another. The traditional faculty-in-exile of the New School seems to share, as a special sophisticated instance, the general pattern of exilic challenge and response.

Perhaps they could be characterized in the following way: These men and women share a broad culture. They share a Platonic mystique of academic scholarship, as opposed to Socratic engagement. Their political views are formally liberal and somewhat abstractly humane. They could be defined as Social Democrats, in the European sense. They value the symbols of status highly, are formal in their public attitudes toward each other and toward students, whom they regard as either epigones or apprentices: indeed, one has the impression that the ideal student would be a kind of soldier of learning, ascetic, disciplined, and unresponsive to irrelevant desires. They tend to accept administrative authority without serious question unless it impinges upon their immediate scholarly functions. And they respect, rather than criticize, bureaucratic rules. These and other attributes are not to be regarded as shallow rationalizations of self-interest. They constitute an authentic way of life, one by no means confined to the few remaining European scholars on the faculty. This is an academic consciousness shared by many indigenous colleagues.

But most American campuses pay at least lip service to student concerns whereas the traditional New School faculty has not been “student-oriented” in the American sense at all. The structure was designed to accommodate European scholars, and had something of the flavor of a research institute. Located in a building off lower Fifth Avenue, the school had no undergraduate student body and no conventional campus and little lively communion with students.

Since there were few substantial scholarships, this urban graduate faculty attracted older students, many of whom worked during the day and attended classes in the late afternoon and evening; classes met once a week. In the absence of significant endowment, student fees were primary currency, and entrance standards were low. Attrition was relatively high, but not extravagant.

Here then was a European faculty, idiosyncratically dependent upon a unique time schedule and an unconventional student body. The normal expectation of the European scholar, carefully cultivating an elite of heirs, was thwarted. This lack of close relations between a traditional faculty and an odd mixture of students contributed to a sense of mutual estrangement. That in turn led to poignant efforts on the part of the Graduate Faculty to cultivate a few students, as if the latter did indeed fit the former’s ideal model. Fond expectations have frequently failed but the illusions tend to persist. German rigor could hardly be practiced by the harried American night student.

In recent years, the graduate students have come to resemble others throughout the country. The average age of students has declined and they have become increasingly assertive. A large New School day college for juniors and seniors transferred from other schools has been established. Although this school has no connection with the Graduate Faculty, it has brought still younger people into the small New School complex. Still, the adult education ambience of the New School lingers on and is rooted in the New School “general education division,” which is by far the largest of the New School installations. It includes over 10,000 students and some 500 faculty and is centered in the old buildings on 12th Street.

The Graduate Center, which was installed last year in new quarters on Fifth Avenue, a few blocks away, is limited to about 2,500 students and has a permanent faculty of only thirty-eight, supplemented by a number of temporary and visiting appointments.

In recent years, Graduate Faculty attitudes have changed somewhat. In the spirit of the times, a number of technically specialized scholars have been recruited and, perhaps more significantly, several “internal émigrés” have been attracted to the faculty. This latter group tends to be politically radical, egalitarian, disenchanted with the aridity of academic practice, and involved in efforts to revitalize their discipline and redefine their intellectual roles amid the inescapable crises of the times. If the older generation represents exile, these younger exiles represent engagement. Each in the name of freedom opposes the other. The old guard looks back to its political event; the younger is trying to establish one. Each lays claim to the birthright of the institution. Nevertheless, the uniqueness of the Graduate Faculty’s origin and its small size give it both the appearance and opportunity for unity: the notion of unity on all significant outside issues affecting the faculty has indeed been long cherished.

This strange polarity within a dogma of unity is the overriding paradox of the New School. It helps define the crisis which gradually, almost unconsciously, developed and which now lies fully exposed by the traumatic events of the past several weeks.

II

Like most major campuses throughout the country, the New School responded immediately to the invasion of Cambodia. The most alarmed students and faculty, further enraged by the murders at Kent State, agreed at once to strike.’ On May 4, after the “incursion,” an informal steering committee of students called for a moratorium on routine university business, including classes, in order to muster the student body for antiwar activities, using the school as their headquarters. From the beginning, it was made clear that the strike was a university strike against the war and not against the university. The students, who were now rallying in hundreds at the Graduate Faculty Center, wanted to find means of mobilizing support of citizens outside the New School. As was the case throughout the country, this was an extension of energy rather than the dissipation of effort turning in upon itself. There was nothing to indicate that the students had any intention of provoking an internal crisis.

In accordance with the larger aim, and with the increasing political maturity of the national student movement, a number of committees were formed in order to find allies among workers, high-school students, and others outside the school. Most important among these committees was the Work Stoppage Committee, which sought to develop local worker-student alliances with the eventual aim of joint strike action. Indeed, the National Strike Co-ordinating Committee then functioning at Brandeis designated the New School to serve as the eastern regional work stoppage headquarters.

Other committees included the Facilities Committee, the Ad-men Against the War Committee, and the High School Co-ordinating Committee. The philosophy underlying the work of these committees was twofold. They wanted both to bring students into the political life of the city and groups from the city into the school. The latter function seemed to the students highly appropriate, since they believed the tradition of the New School to be one of engagement and “relevance.” President Everett had, after all, stated at one time: “The mandate of the New School’s founders was to reject the idea of a university as an enclave of splendid isolation and make it instead an integral part and partner of the community it serves.” It was to be the latter issue, their inviting community groups into the Graduate Center, that proved the occasion, even when it was no longer a pertinent cause, for the breakdown of communication with the administration and with certain members of the faculty. The invitation to outsiders had the inadvertent effect of deflecting the strikers into conflict with the New School itself.

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    One should add to this roster later members of the faculty who are in the same tradition: Erich Kahler, Jacques Maritain, Aron Gurwitsch, Hans Jonas, and Hannah Arendt.

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