They Came Not To Improve The New School; Rather To Bury It

September 27, 2006 at 11:09 am 1 comment

Our New School- yes, no longer our New School University, but rather our New School – logo shines proudly on the small patch of urban intelligentsia that fashions themselves the kings of the mid-teen streets and the grand fifth and sixth avenues. Not a shield, not a motto, but a graffiti “inspired” tag fading out from left to right announces our vision to the world: We’re “innovative,” “an alternative,” “eclectic” and “courageous,” our tag screams…

Seriously, though, who could come up with such a load of bullshit? The answer, my friends, won’t be found in the “bold statement of bright reds, oranges, and yellows” that supposedly forcefully convey our solid dedication to learning, but more in the behind-the-scenes look at the slide presentation delivered by major brand agency Siegel & Gale (from which all above quotes are plucked) to our trusty university after an exhaustive two year study of our image. Why? It seems the New School (and the Graduate Faculty, where I study, which has now been renamed the New School for Social Research) bought entirely into what economists and culturists have been terming the “attention economy.” Briefly (and there’s an entire literature on the subject), economists have deduced that, due to oversaturation of products in the marketplace, companies must focus their efforts not on the products themselves, but solely on marketing. No longer content with a solid, sustainable product, large companies have turned sharply towards what is by now no doubt a cliché, the use of branding in order to (as the word implies) “brand” itself into customer’s minds.

This turn, of generating familiarity – an intimacy – with a product’s image instead of its function has spawned an entire industry of barnacle dwellers, branding agencies who will deliver to companies, for a spicy sum, a manual about the so-called identity of their consumers’ habits and actions; a manual derived from hours of interviews, from observational methods and from the creative output of the customers themselves. It is a dubious honor, then, that the New School has chosen to ingratiate itself with an industry devoted to, at its core, manipulating the form of content without improving its substance; that is, the New School’s branding endeavor has placed it alongside the ranks of companies who, lacking any way to paper over their grievous and ruinous actions, decide to rebrand with something new.

But what’s so bad, you may ask, about rebranding? Nothing in itself, really, but it is a lens through which to view the larger problems plaguing our venerable institution. Horrible labor disputes, complete lack of funding, the worst website of any college in the US (save the fly-by-night diploma mills) are plaints that top the list, but there are other minute-yet-annoying problems, such as those escalators that rarely work… But I digress: say we didn’t care about the hefty amount we doubtlessly gave Seigel & Gale to change the way we appear to others, instead of the way we actually act.

Say we cared, instead, about what Seigel & Gale actually said about our students and staff. Their findings (which are available as of writing at http://identity.newschool.edu) show a faculty and student body that are overwhelmingly concerned with what the New School used to stand for. For its history of radical activism (by now mayhaps an antiquated fetish) and its acceptance of alternative thinking. For its warm embrace of those considered unfit for mainstream institutions. Ask any European studying here about their perception of the New School and how large our name looms there. Ask Seigel & Gale for what they consider our main charge:

educating people in the discipline, creativity and courage that they need to make democracy work.

Likewise, Bob Kerrey, war-criminal-cum-president, presented the brand firm’s findings with emphasizing that the New School

has been and continues to be the name that best captures who we are. It invokes our heritage as well as reinforces our reputation for innovation.”

Fantastic. We agree with the above statement – or I should say, I did agree until I saw what kind of administration we really have at the New School. To make democracy truly work, one might argue, those who teach it must practice it themselves. Now that you’ve asked outsiders (and Seigel & Gale, despite their oily PowerPoint presentation belong in that group) how they see the New School, ask those who have toiled away here, trying to bring real social improvements to the university and its attendees, about their experiences.

From former war criminal Bob Kerrey inviting ultra-right wing John McCain to speak at our graduation; from holding a “revisiting” Leo Strauss conference where aging sycophants tirelessly traded hagiographies; from a nearly-averted labor dispute (a sad disease riddling many of the New York universities); from the outrageous salary disparities between top administrators and those who clean our school, cook for us and teach us; from … suffice it to say, the New School has strayed aplenty from its perceived democratic – and even anarchistic – roots.

While our faculty is among the best in the world and our students commingle, scholarship-starved, with just the barest hint of the fierce competition that peppers even the most larded schools, providing an excellent learning environment, our administrators continue to rely on image makeovers instead of real, substantive reforms. What does it matter, we offer, if our logo evokes certain emotions of resistance and radicalism if our actions don’t reflect these philosophies? Why place a premium on anachronistic ideas of heritage and history if we do not continue to live the very ideologies that separated us in the first place?

And so, we the editors of New School Disorientation offer you the following pages. In them, hopefully you’ll learn about very vital issues you will not be exposed to by the administration, among them the true history of the New School, the labor disputes of the 1990s, and activist resources around campus, among others. We invite you to read and to spread all the information and be involved in the university you chose. The colors of our school don’t really matter otherwise.

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Entry filed under: Culture, History, Image.

Who is President Bob Kerrey of the New School?

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