By Dustin Hurst ǀ Watchdog.org
OMAHA — A transgender Jesus? Gay children? Conservatism as a pathology?
Welcome to a course of study at Democrat Bob Kerrey’s famous — and infamous — New School for Social Research in New York City.
Kerrey, a former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator, ran the school for a decade. Now he’s hoping to serve Nebraska in the U.S. Senate again — in part, he says, to save American education.
“Our schools are not performing at world standards,” he says in a recent television spot.
Founded in 1919 by progressives, the New School has long been regarded as an outpost for radical thought. In the 1930s, intellectuals fleeing Nazi Germany found refuge within its classrooms.
But it served a purpose greater than simply housing fascism’s refugees. In a 2009 profile of Kerrey and his time there, New York Magazine characterized the university and its graduate program, once known as the University in Exile, as a haven of radical and far-out thought.
“The University in Exile served a purpose, absorbing academics that couldn’t be absorbed elsewhere, who in turn offered their distinct brand of radical thought,” wrote author Jennifer Senior.
The rich tradition of left-leaning and out-of-the-box thinking continued under Kerrey. “The New School is still known as a place where radical ideas can thrive and flourish,” Kerrey said in a Feb. 19, 2008, speech.
Kerrey sometimes struggled with his radical community, and his tenure at the school was marred occasionally by controversy as he sought to improve the organization’s financial status.
“Bob gets what’s (messed) up about the New School,” New School political professor Jim Miller told New York Magazine, “but he doesn’t get what’s special about it, its special anarchy and founding moments. He just sees it as an economic puzzle to be solved.”
In 2008, in part because of his governing style, the New School faculty voted no confidence in Kerrey, 74 to 2. Kerrey rode it out, resigning in January 2011.
The decision to invite Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain to New School’s 2009 commencement ceremony was possibly one of the most heated of the Kerrey presidency. Students heckled Kerrey and McCain. Student speaker Jean Sarah Rohe slammed the choice in her remarks.
“The senator does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded,” she said, according to the New York Times. ”This invitation was a top-down decision that did not take into account the desires and interests of the student body on an occasion that is supposed to honor us above all.”
Though the turmoil is well-documented, the New School’s reputation for radicalism could become an issue as he seeks a seat in Nebraska, one of America’s heartland states.
Here are some of the most intriguing 2012-2013 New School courses and their descriptions:
- LREL 3101 — A transgender Jesus Christ? Students in “Queering & Decolonizing Theory” explore homosexuality and religion.
- LCST 3046 — Child sexuality is discussed in “Queerness of Children.” This course includes examination of the “It Gets Better” campaign, a social movement encouraging youth to accept their homosexuality with optimism.
- GHIS 5122 — Students in Social Research take this class, “Know your Red States,” to put conservative thought in a petri dish for close examination. There is no blue states course offered.
- GSOC 5106 — Study how the youth culture deals with drugs, comedy and sex in an urban setting. Students can discuss their own sexual and drug-induced adventures in the course. “We intend to spend time examining in detail the world of sex, toxicmania and comedy with a primary interest on personal forays into these areas of the city using embodiment as a key theoretic strategy,” the description says.
- LSOC 2068 — Women do the majority of the homemaking and that’s just not fair. This course examines the role women play in U.S. history. Students also will “consider possibilities of more egalitarian alternatives”
- NHUM 3062 — “Queer New York” examines the homosexual culture in New York, including art, literature and film. Field trips to local queer landmarks included.
- NMDS 5123 — An examination of sexuality including discussion of the mass media and the female perspective of sexual arousal. The course also broaches on the queer reconstruction of sexual identity.
- PLAH 2001 — “Few images are as powerful as the nude,” this course description states. This class explores the naked human body in art and culture and the emotion it evokes. “It can arouse the strongest desire or provoke the most violent outrage.”
- PLFS 2001 — This course examines the role of the supermodel in Western culture. Students will discuss beauty, gender and the politics of supermodeling. The professor also will examine how to “queer about the catwalk.”
Other courses include a study of Reaganism, queering activism and queering religious life.
How will the Kerrey campaign handle discussion of these courses should his tenure at the New School become a campaign issue? In a phone inquiry, Kerrey spokesman Chris Triebsch declined to comment.