That legacy is in danger.
Since its founding 90 years ago, The New School has made no genuine and sustained effort to preserve its history. Because it has no centralized archive, valuable documents from the university’s past are almost impossible to locate. Works of art have been severely damaged due to improper storage, while documents languish in a host of divergent locations across campus, largely hidden and decaying. Over the years, files pertaining to the University in Exile, a remarkable graduate program that offered refuge to exiled European scholars during the 1930s, have been given away to other institutions. By casting its archival materials aside, The New School has revealed a remarkable lack of concern for its own institutional history.
Recently, though, The New School’s libraries have shown a willingness to change the unfortunate pattern. A handful of librarians and archivists have taken it upon themselves to conduct an inventory of the university’s holdings, with the goal of organizing and protecting neglected materials. Though still in its early stages, the project offers a glimmer of hope to those who value The New School’s history and see the importance of preserving it.
But cataloguing the university’s collections and creating a real archive will be expensive. Without appropriate funding, the libraries can only accomplish so much. And given the administration’s history of indifference, their support — financial and otherwise — is unlikely to emerge on its own. The university community needs to raise its voice and insist on action.
As The New School’s hundredth anniversary approaches, and the administration strives to make the university more like a traditional institution than ever before, we must not only stop neglecting our history —we must preserve and protect it.
Change is important, especially at an institution committed to progress. We should be looking to the future, and we should be looking at how, as a university, we can continue to improve ourselves. But an important part of moving forward is looking back at who we used to be, and how we got to where we are today.
We must not exist as a greatest hits list any longer. The dream of a centralized archive is perhaps a bit romantic, and undoubtedly costly. But the cost of inaction will be higher.