During the late 1970s and early 1980s, I believed that I could be helpful in the ways that I like to by serving on the board of New York University’s medical center, a fine teaching hospital, where we on the board were expected to assist NYU’s doctors in obtaining financing for their research and experimental undertakings. My board service there began during the three-year period that we were under the Rockefeller corporate umbrella, and continued after we had emerged as a private company principally owned and led by me.
I enjoyed the NYU Medical Center board meetings. The doctors and their experiments were quite interesting, and I liked hearing about the work from the doctors themselves and contributing my ideas on how to get their projects financed. But during one meeting, after we had listened to such a presentation, a new board member raked the medical investigator over the coals in a nasty and inappropriate way. I seethed, but no one else said anything, so I didn’t.
When I resigned from the NYU Medical Center board, I cited other commitments. Primary among them was that I had just gone on the board of The New School for Social Research. Among other things, this new obligation provided me with an opportunity to replace the intellectual stimulation I had initially enjoyed at the NYU Medical Center board. The intellectually stimulating aspect of working with The New School has continued since that moment. As I write this, I have served for almost thirty years on that board, and happily so, as my many years of service there have provided me with the opportunity to “give back” in ideas and in financial contributions to support the goals and principles I had absorbed from my early school days and my experiences as a teacher and a builder. Since joining the board in 1981, I have made The New School a major focus of my time, energy, and resources. I served as chairman of the board for seven years, and for many other years I chaired endless committees and was always a member of the executive committee. It is frequently said that an individual can do a lot for an institution; less frequently said is that an institution can do a lot for someone who becomes closely intertwined with it. The New School has stimulated me in many ways, and continues to do so. My lower and high school teachers, many of whom had connections to The New School and its progressive culture, instilled in me a heritage of progressive views with respect to personal associations, an appreciation of people who are under economic hardships, and the need to be consistent in my support of liberal policies and politicians. The New School was perfect for me in that it combined three of my passions: the progressive tradition, good teaching, and intellectual stimulation.
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Recruited by the then-president of The New School, Jack Everett, who was my colleague on the New Lincoln School board, and by its board chairwoman, my good friend Dorothy Hirshon, I joined the board of the Greenwich Village-based university at an interesting moment in its history. Dorothy was a terrific person, and her commitment to the arts, to education, and to those who needed help was tremendous, but in terms of predicting what would be required of me by The New School, she wasn’t much of a forecaster.
The New School for Social Research was founded in 1919 as an alternative university, one specifically designed to “educate the educated.” In the 1930s, it became “The University in Exile” for the many intellectual refugees from Nazi Germany who resettled in the New York area, and it took on added luster because of these teachers. (In later years, I would honor these teachers, and another individual of their generation and origin, my friend Hans Maeder, by underwriting an annual Hans Maeder lecture at The New School.) From the 1940s through the 1970s, The New School was known primarily for its adult-education classes, held mainly in the evenings, and for having no fulltime faculty, only associates who were experts in their field and who taught part-time while they continued to work in their areas of expertise. The structure of the school’s classes was also part of the unique design, consisting mostly of small seminars of a dozen or fewer people. The New School boasted of offering a thousand different courses and of giving the students a chance to interact directly with the teachers in and out of the classroom.
Because of this unusual configuration, The New School’s board had seen no reason to build up an endowment. Its operation was strictly pay-as-you-go; if enough people did not sign up for a particular course to carry its costs, that course would be canceled before it began. The board would occasionally raise funds for particular projects but not for an endowment.