Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Moving Out Of The "GF," Grad Students' Hackles Raised

[This ran in The New School Free Press this week. I've got a bit of fantastic news for you: the badly-named school newspaper "Inprint" is no longer known as such. From now on, the paper is called The New School Free Press, so I took the liberty to edit the article and enter in the new name. CELEBRATION!]

Now that several departments of The New School for Social Research have moved from 65 5th Ave. to 79 5th Ave., students are protesting the loss of coveted research space and the building this graduate program has called home for over four decades.

“It’s gonna be awful,” said Aaron Jaffe, a third-year PhD candidate for Philosophy and member of the Graduate Faculty Student Senate. According to several New School for Social Research (NSSR) students who spoke with Free Press, grad students will lose study booths and will have to share a conference room with other classes. There are fewer printers in the new building. Secretary and student advisor offices, Jaffe said, have no doors.

“The administration prompting us to ‘go to Bobst’ is insufficient,” Jeffrey Purchla, a first-year MA candidate for Sociology, wrote over email. “We do not have wireless access there, advanced students cannot have a study booth and the reference staff is not contractually obligated to assist students who need help.”

A small space in the basement of 79 5th has been secured as a quiet reading room. But a New School administrator in charge of construction said the area is difficult to soundproof, which students said is a necessity for quiet study.

The New School for Social Research, a corner-stone for the study of modern philosophy in America, opened 65 Fifth Ave., also known as “GF” for Graduate Faculty, in 1967. The building has been a hub of the graduate division, but some years ago the university began to move other divisions’ classrooms and administrative offices into the building.

The New School expects to demolish the building at 65 5th Ave. entirely by the summer of 2008, according to New School President Bob Kerrey. A state-of-the-art building, replete with the latest audio-visual capabilities and more public space, classrooms and offices will take the GF’s place as this university’s flagship building.

The administration estimates that the project will cost $400 million. The university has raised about $70 million for the project, Kerrey told Free Press, and fund-raising work will continue during construction.

The new building, Kerrey said, will be “essentially an undergraduate space.” Renovated buildings at 79 and 80 5th Ave. are expected to become the new home for NSSR.

NSSR students said they have struggled with the administration for two years over construction plans. This summer, members of the New School community, including students, faculty and staff, formed an unofficial group dubbed The New School for No Research. They held an open meeting and passed out flyers at orientation last week to raise awareness about their concerns with the move.

“We are losing,” one member wrote over email, signing the message J. Dewey. “We have been for a while.”

Lack of space at The New School has been a source of conflict among faculty and students for several years. As the university continues its efforts to find new homes for the university’s divisions, preparing for the four-to-five years 65 5th Ave. will be a construction site and forking over high rent costs in the city, Lia Gartner, Vice President for Design, Construction and Facilities Management, said students and faculty will need to share rooms and deal with stricter class scheduling.

NSSR Dean Michael Schober said that a chief concern among administrators is whether 79 5th Ave. will be an adequate space for the grad school. “I assure you, at every level,” Schober said, questions are being asked about space.

One concern among students is the loss of the reading room at 65 5th, which by Jaffe’s count hosts about 190 seats. “We do a lot of studying,” Jaffe said. “We need a space where we can read for six hours on end.”

So last April, Jaffe joined six fellow members of the Building Move Committee (BMC) to meet with Gartner to claim a 79 5th Ave. basement space, which holds about 45 seats, as a reading room.

Gartner and the BMC discussed and agreed on adding desks and working out soundproofing issues to create such a space. (Last semester, Lang students started a petition to secure this same area as a lounge and student activity center.) According to minutes for the meeting, Gartner recommended installing shag carpeting, handing out earphones and padding walls to block noise.

If and when any additions to the room will materialize, however, is undecided. The space has an open stairway to the lobby and no door to protect it from noise. If special doors and walls were installed, Gartner said it would not be as functional or aesthetically appealing. “It would be a basement pit,” she said.

Gartner said that, once 65 5th Ave. becomes a pile of rubble, Arnhold Hall at 55 W. 13th will become an interim “knowledge center” with a quiet study room. As for 79 5th Ave, she said signs will be up to bar talking, eating and cell phones. In October, she plans to reexamine the space with the BMC.

By August 27th, most departments of the graduate division began moving out. The Historical Studies department headed to 80 5th Ave., while the rest of the departments headed to the 7th and 10th floors at 79 5th Ave. But Psychology stays at 65 5th Ave. Also, many classrooms, like those for philosophy courses, will stay at 65 Fifth.

Students milling around the NSSR Philosophy Department last week told Free Press that this move threatens the division’s autonomy by cutting space and relegating classrooms to multiple buildings, just after a raise in tuition costs.

“At the same time, they’re advertising the interdisciplinary nature of this division,” Jaffe said. “How we are so wonderfully adept at cultivating ideas across divisions.”

Schober seems sympathetic to the concerns, but said that, given the current construction plans, the division has limited options. “We’ve done a good job of keeping at least a chunk of departments together,” he added.

Asked about the students’ concerns over losing space, President Kerrey suggested that the new building and a growing undergrad class would strengthen the grad programs. Graduate divisions like NSSR stay afloat, he said, with the revenues of far more profitable undergraduate divisions, like Parsons. “So, have you hugged an undergraduate lately?” Kerrey added. “That’s my answer.”

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