An interview with the Director of Debate at the New School

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1) Can you tell me a little bit about the history of the New School, how it was formed, the University in Exile, etc? Is it true that Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss attended/taught at the University?

The New School for Social Research was founded by a group of university professors and intellectuals in 1919 as a modern, progressive free school where adult students could "seek an unbiased understanding of the existing order, its genesis, growth and present working." The school was conceived and founded during a period of fevered nationalism, deep suspicion of foreigners, and increased censorship and suppression during and after the involvement of the United States in World War I.
In October 1917, after Columbia University passed a resolution that imposed a loyalty oath to the United States Government upon the entire faculty and student body, the board of trustees fired Professor of Psychology and Head of the Department James McKeen Cattell for having sent a petition to three US congressmen, asking them not to support legislation for military conscription. Other firings included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana (grandson of the poet) and Leon Fraser. Charles Beard, Professor of Political Science, resigned his professorship at Columbia in protest.
Founder Charles Beard had, in 1899, collaborated with Walter Vrooman at Oxford to start Ruskin Hall, a progressive institution of higher learning for workingmen. The New School would offer the rigorousness of postgraduate education without degree matriculation or degree prerequisites. It was theoretically open to anyone, as the adult division today called The New School for General Studies remains. The first classes at the New School took the form of lectures followed by discussions, for larger groups, or as smaller conferences, for "those equipped for specific research."
The University in Exile was founded in 1933 as a graduate division of the New School for Social Research to be a haven for scholars who had been dismissed from teaching positions by totalitarian regimes in Europe. The University in Exile was initially funded by Hiram Halle and the Rockefeller Foundation. It was later renamed the "Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science", and bore this name until changing to its present one in 2005. The University in Exile and its subsequent incarnations have been the intellectual heart of the New School. Notable scholars associated with the University in Exile include psychologists Erich Fromm, Max Wertheimer and Aron Gurwitsch, political philosophers Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss, and philosopher Hans Jonas.
The New School played a similar role with its support of the École Libre des Hautes Études. Receiving a charter from de Gaulle's Free French government in exile, the École attracted refugee scholars who taught in French, including philosopher Jacques Maritain, anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and linguist Roman Jakobson. The École Libre gradually evolved into one of the leading institutions of research in Paris, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, with which the New School maintains close ties.
Following the collapse of totalitarian regimes in Europe, the University in Exile was renamed the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science. In 2005 the Graduate Faculty was again renamed, this time taking the original name of the university, the New School for Social Research.
The school and New York itself had become a sanctuary for hundreds of extraordinary European Jews who had fled Germany and other countries before and during World War II, and they were enriching the city's intellectual life with an intensity that has probably never been equaled anywhere during a comparable period of time.
The New School for Social Research continues the Graduate Faculty's tradition of synthesizing leftist American intellectual thought and critical European philosophy. True to its origin and its firm roots within the University in Exile, The New School for Social Research, particularly its Department of Philosophy, is one of very few in the United States to offer students thorough training in the modern continental European philosophical tradition known as "Continental philosophy." Thus, it stresses the teachings of Aristotle, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Arendt, Freud, Benjamin, Wittgenstein, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, et al. The thought of the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School: Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas, et al. holds an especially strong influence on all divisions of the school.
In June 2005, the university was officially renamed "The New School" and, in order to better promote the common affiliation of the divisions, the academic units were renamed to prominently feature the New School name: The New School for General Studies, The New School for Social Research, Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, Parsons The New School for Design, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts, Mannes College The New School for Music, The New School for Drama and The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.

Today The New School is host to seven campuses located within the Greenwich Village area of New York City. The debate team is actually hosted under the Eugene Lang School of Liberal Arts. Although we are housed out of this one particular campus we encourage students from all of the universities campuses to participate in debate and allow any student attending any campus of The New School to participate and travel with the team.

2) When was the debate team created?

The debate team is currently in its third year of existence. We were created after several students wanted to create a team that would travel and compete against other Universities in extracurricular debate activities. The first year of existence was difficult as there was no full-time debate coach and the students had to pay all fees on their own. Halfway through the first year there was only 2 traveling teams on the squad. In order the help with fees and research efforts the team started working with the NYU Coalition (a loose association of NYU campuses that would travel to tournaments under the same banner and share all costs and research efforts). After one year of working with the NYU Coalition The New School separated from the coalition, and started working with students from Columbia University in an effort to save costs. The second year also marked a major change in the debate team when the Presidents Office helped to establish an endowment to help cover costs for the students and hire a full-time staff to work with the debate team. Lead by the guidance of Director of Debate Amber Keilse The New School would win two tournaments and advance into elimination rounds at the Cross Exampination Debate Association National Tournament. We are currently in our third year of existence and have totally separated from both The NYU Coalition and Columbia and are “out on our own.” Part of my job this year is to maintain the competitive success that has been established over the past few years and bring public debates and discussions back to campus.

In addition to competing at debate tournaments, the debate team will sponsor 3-4 public debates on campus each semester in students and faculty will be able to discuss “hot-button” issues and foster a more open and inclusive campus. We also travel to a minimum security prison at Rickers Island and compete in 3-4 debates per semester against their debate team. These are activities that we fill will encourage public discussion both on campus and in the general public.

3) What are some of the tournaments you're going to this year?

This year the debate team will be traveling to the University of Vermont, The University of Richmond, The United States Military Academy, Harvard University, The University of West Conneticut and Wake Forest University in the Fall. In the spring we are traveling to The University of North Texas, The University of Texas-Dallas, The US Naval Academy, the University of Massatuchets-Amherst, Binghamton University, Towson University and the University of Berkeley for the National Championships. In addition to the spring travel schedule we are also hosting the first annual New School Round Robin at the end of January. We are very lucky to participate in the North East US, as there are several tournaments that are particularly close to NYC.

4) What's your "5 year plan" for the debate team?

My five year plan for the debate team is three-fold. First, I hope to increase the size and notoriety of the squad on campus. I was shocked to learn that the majority of Professors on campus are unaware that we even have a debate team or what we do. I am hoping that through the Public Debates on Campus and continued competitive success that this will be the easy part. The second part is to increase the size of the budget. One of the first things I learned after taking this job was the difficulty in trying to get as many students to tournaments on the current size of our budget. We hope to do this by reaching out to alums of The New School and getting them to make donations to our endowment. In addition to this we are hoping to do a few fundraisers throughout the year to hopefully raise enough money for a few tournaments. In the future we hope to host a High School tournament on our campus to give back to the High School community and hopefully raise some money for the budget. One of the difficulties I am facing now is trying to figure out how to send a large number of students to tournaments when I am the only staff member working with the debate team. Logistical concerns, such as how to transport 20+ students when I am the only available driver and how to ensure that we can have our “judging commitments” covered at tournaments is a real concern this year. Hopefully, our fundraising efforts will go well and I will be able to hire an assistant or two to help with these concerns in the future. Lastly, I hope to establish a family atmosphere on the debate team that will ensure its future competitive success long after I am gone (not that I plan on going anywhere). This will be done by instilling an atmosphere of success where the debaters will continue to return tournament after tournament and year after year. Hopefully this will allow us to build on each year and eventually get to the point that there is an established system that encourages argument development and ensures the debater have successes in the future.

5) Give us your recruiting pitch!

If you are looking for a University that will allow you to take the classes that you want to take and encourage critical thought and analysis The New School is the place for you. At The New School you are able to take classes with world renowned thinkers who will challenge you and encourage you to get involved in discussions and in outside work to help transform your schoolwork into application in the real world. All of the classes at the New School are small seminar style classes where you will never buy a traditional textbook. Instead you will go back to the original sources and develop a more grounded base, and in most cases from the actual authors themselves.

In addition to the classroom advantage at The New School, you are able to participate in competitive Academic debates on college campuses all across the US. You will be able to engage in discussions that will not only enlighten you, but in many cases becomes the catalyst for community involvement and real-world application of arguments that you believe in. We are a very diverse debate team with debaters of all experience levels. One of the things I have implemented this year is a separate novice meeting each week where I meet with the more inexperienced debaters separately and make sure they are getting the individual attention they need. This doesn’t end once you are no longer a novice. I encourage all my debaters to come by my office at any time to get individual attention and help with their arguments. My door is always open and all of the debaters make use of that.

Currently we are not able to offer a “debate scholarship”, but one of the good things about The New School is that it is a private University that will work with any of it’s students to make sure their financial concerns are meet. We do offer a few work-study positions with the debate team where we are able to pay students for time they are working on debate. Although, not a traditional scholarship it does help several of the students to meet their financial needs.
The last thing that I can say about The New School debate team is that the students truly inspire me each and every day. I have worked with several debate teams (The University of North Texas, Kansas State University, Baylor University, The University of Rochester and several High School programs) and I have to say that this is by far the best bunch of students I have ever worked with. Part of this is because of the way classes are taught at the University, but the biggest reason for this is their attitudes towards debate and their team members. There is truly a family type environment where all the debaters look out for one another and try to help each other anytime they can. I am truly blessed to be able to work with such gifted and wonderful students.

that is quite a history

indeed. i hope this team is doing well.

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