On October 26, students and faculty of the New School gathered to discuss current issues at a University Town Hall meeting. President David Van Zandt and provost Tim Marshall presented the packed Wollman Hall with plans and agendas for the future, but an hour and a half seemed to only scratch the surface of what is going on in the university community.
Van Zandt opened the meeting by presenting a few of the university’s recent successes, such as the smooth transition between e-mail platforms, a new bell system to unify class schedules, and the massive new university building currently rising on the corner of 14th Street and Fifth Avenue. Van Zandt’s cheerful tone was soon darkened by less positive news: as the university’s enrollment decreased by 5.1 percent between 2010 and 2011, rising rates of tuition are something that the school and its students may have to face in the near future. The president didn’t let the bad news dispirit him, and instead reminded the crowd that the New School’s reputation as a non-traditional and civically engaged learning institution will continue to preceed itself and attract new students. “We’re the New School,” Van Zandt reminded the crowd, “we should think innovatively.”
The Q&A portion turned out to be the most intriguing part of the meeting. Anthony Whitfield, an associate professor at Parsons, expressed his concerns about the school’s diversity, claiming that explicit discussion on the matter has disappeared. “How can we improve what is not even talked about?” Whitfield asked. Tim Marshall and David Van Zandt were quick to claim that diversity discussion had not disappeared. “Look around this room,” Whitfield encouraged. “If [diversity] is not seen here, it’s not seen in the curriculum.” He wished to see the university treat diversity less as a series of politically correct anecdotes, but instead as an intrinsic part of the curriculum. Whitfield’s opinions gained applause and agreeing comments, with another faculty member noting that diversity has actually decreased within the faculty.
Other expressed concerns touched upon rising tuition rates and the ratio between freshmen and seniors in classes. The issue of diversity, which Tony Whitfield had quite unexpectedly put on the table and president Van Zandt didn’t seem to know how to approach, seemed to leave a veil of uncertainty over the remainder of the meeting. As the crowds made their way out of Wollman Hall, it appeared as if more questions had been asked than answers given.