Free Inquiry at Risk: Universities in Dangerous Times, Part II
19th Social Research Conference February 19-20, 2009
During the 1920s, Alvin Johnson, the New School's first president, became coeditor of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. While working on this massive undertaking, Johnson collaborated regularly with his colleagues in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. It was they who alerted him to the dangers Hitler presented to democracy and the civilized world, well before many others in the US had begun to grasp the seriousness of the situation.
In 1933, with the financial support of the enlightened philanthropist Hiram Halle and the Rockefeller Foundation, Johnson created within the New School a "University in Exile" to provide a haven for scholars and artists whose lives were threatened by National Socialism. Johnson created faculty positions for ten distinguished scholars: five economists (Karl Brandt, Gerhard Colm, Arthur Feiler, Eduard Heimann, and Emil Lederer); two psychologists (Max Wertheimer and Erich von Hornbostel); one expert in social policy (Frieda Wunderlich); and one sociologist (Hans Speier).
A year later, in 1934, the University in Exile received authorization from the State of New York to offer master's and doctoral degrees. Renamed the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science, the University in Exile would sponsor over 180 individuals and their families, providing them with exit visas and jobs. While some of these refugees remained at the New School for many years, others moved on to have major impact at other institutions in the United States.
Also in 1934, Alvin Johnson and the founding members of the Graduate Faculty launched Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Political and Social Sciences, based on the deep conviction that every true university must have its own distinct public voice."What is striving for expression in the collective mind of the Continental scholars abroad is not the kind of thinking to which they were formerly devoted but a new kind of thinking," Johnson wrote in his introduction to the journal's first issue. "And there can be little doubt that when the integration of form and material has been completely effected new and potent forces will have been set in operation in the intellectual world. Social Research is an early sign of this coming intellectual movement. The methods are obviously Continental, the material is of the world at large." Seventy-five years and nearly 300 issues later, the journal continues to flourish.
Other leading figures of Europe's intelligentsia soon joined the Graduate Faculty. The New School established a reputation as a place that fostered the highest standards of scholarly inquiry while addressing issues of major political, cultural, philosophical, and economic concern. Several members of the faculty served as policy advisors for the Roosevelt administration during the Second World War. Others helped transform the social sciences and philosophy in this country, presenting theoretical and methodological approaches to their fields that were poorly represented in the United States.
What the New School achieved in the 1930s inspired other American colleges and universities to try to do the same. Even as other universities rescued scholars from Europe, our efforts were uniquely central to our identity. The New School remained at the center of rescue efforts and a symbol of hope for the Europeans for years to follow. As Thomas Mann noted at a Graduate Faculty convocation in 1937, a plaque with the inscription "To the Living Spirit" had been torn down by the Nazis at the University of Heidelberg. Mann suggested that the New School adopt these words as our motto, for "The Living Spirit had found a permanent home at the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science." Alvin Johnson embraced that idea, and the motto continues to guide us in our present-day endeavors, including:
The Transregional Center for Democratic Studies, designed to foster a better understanding of how concerns of "new" and "old" democracies are today beginning to converge and focus on the problems of democratic institutional design at the local, national, and regional levels; The International Center for Migration, Ethnicity, and Citizenship, engaged in scholarly research and public policy analysis of international migration, refugees, and the incorporation of newcomers.
The Journal Donation Project, assisting in rebuilding major research and teaching libraries in countries that have fallen victim to political or economic deprivation through the provision of current subscriptions and back volume sets of English language scholarly, professional and current events journals.
The Social Research Endangered Scholars Worldwide Initiative, publishing the names of endangered and imprisoned scholars and providing further details of their cases along with draft letters of protest to be sent to the people responsible for their arrest and treatment.
The Social Research Conference Series, designed to enhance public understanding of critical and contested issues by exploring those issues in their broad historical and cultural contexts, and dedicated to the maxim that "to forget history is to risk repeating it."
To order the related issue of Social Research: An International Quarterly