Saturday, November 10, 2007

Come See Ben Lee

New School Provost Ben Lee. This editorial runs in the November 12 issue of The New School Free Press.

If you are even remotely curious about the future of your university's programs and curricula, you should attend Provost Ben Lee's presentation on the university's academic initiatives on November 29.

The New School's Provosts have always been overshadowed by the outsize personality of New School's President, Bob Kerrey, and all of his outrageous controversies. But for the most part it is the Provost, not the President, who takes the lead in initiatives that are absolutely integral to the university's academic operations. Over the past several years, the Provost's Office has risen to a prominent position here, having developed full-time faculty governance rules, introduced a plan to hire full-time faculty at multiple divisions, and narrowly avoided a part-time faculty strike during negotiations over the terms of their union contract.

Lee, who replaced Arjun Appadurai as Provost in Summer 2006, now pilots a plan to revolutionize, for better or worse, our university's curricula. He has worked with the New School's deans to develop a series of university-wide, interdisciplinary and project-based programs that will tackle complex issues like global warming and urban renewal. In his presentation next week, we expect that Provost Lee will discuss the complications administrators have seen so far in bringing Parsons and Lang students together for lecture courses, and the latest developments in creating the Environmental Studies program.

Administrators say that the university-wide programs will be a more efficient and effective use of our university's resources--and we are inclined to believe them. But so far, the project has seen serious challenges. The university plans to hire more faculty that will work at multiple divisions here, and university officials have told the Free Press that scheduling courses for joint faculty can be mind-boggling in its complexity.

And this year, after Lang forced its Social and Historical Inquiry program into the new model by turning two core seminar courses into Social Thought lectures 1 and 2, a lot of Parsons students greeted their new lectures on liberalism, sociology and economic theory with a resounding "So what?" The few Lang students taking these courses, meanwhile, have suffered through dumbed-down discussion sections where their classmates struggle to define terms like "class" and "capitalism."

Last Spring, Provost Lee presented the university-wide plan to a crowd of officials and a few students. By this Fall, he said, the plan should be in a more advanced state. If not, he added, "this process has failed."

The project, indeed, has been coming along--but the progress has given officials more problems to solve. Now, it looks like Lee is walking a tight-rope during a Chicago wind-storm. If you are wondering how he intends to pull off this bold undertaking--which will hugely affect your education, of course--you need to be in the Orozco room on the 29th.

The University-Wide Academic Plan
Thursday, November 29, 2007
66 West 12th Street, 7th floor
Orozco Room

Photo: courtesy the New School

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