In 1962 a dynamic group, many of them retired NYC public school teachers, who loved learning and community decided to create a place where like-minded people could come together. The group was named the Institute for Retired Professionals (the IRP) and was invited to become a program at The New School, as part of its adult learning offerings. From those early days the organization has evolved into an extraordinary community of over 300 people who both lead and take a diverse array of ever-changing study groups, on philosophy, history, literature, politics, film, art, music, and science.
IRP was the first adult peer-learning program in the United States. It provided the model for many similar programs at universities across the country where today thousands of seniors keep their intellectual lives vibrant.
It was, however, many years before the organization, now known as the Life Long Peer Learning Program (LP2), became the eclectic, broad-reaching center of learning and camaraderie it is today. The first director—essentially its creator–was Hyman G Hirsch, a high school social studies teacher and lawyer looking for something to keep him intellectually engaged in retirement. The organization he founded was very different from the one we know now. There were no semesters; instead, classes were held on alternate weeks from September to June. There was no need to commit to class attendance, and members were not discouraged from dropping in on classes as they chose. Courses were given on topics like ‘News and Views’ and ‘Making the Best of Our Years.”
In the Fall of 1993, Jonathan Fanton, president of what was then The New School for Social Research, asked Michael Markowitz, who had been The New School’s Director of Human Resources, to become the new director of the IRP. Markowitz was charged with ailgning the IRP with New School expectations in areas of academic excellence, regular semesters, regular class enrollment and attendance.
When the membership learned of the changes, rebellion ensued! Some of the IRP leaders felt The New School had no right to tell the group how to operate. At the end of the Fall semester of 1994, 150 members left, believing that without them, the IRP would cease to be.
This, of course, did not happen.
After the discontented group departed, no new members were admitted for one semester while The New School calendar and class standards were adopted. Then, on October 17, 1995, President Fanton came to the IRP General Membership Meeting, and reassured everyone that they still had a home in The New School building on 12th Street.
The new director, Michael Markowitz, was both loved and respected. He upheld rigorous academic and organizational standards, knew every member’s name, former career, and areas of interest. He fashioned the Curriculum and Admissions Committees as they are now, set up elections, and helped the newly appointed Advisory Board figure out their role. He seemed to know just what kinds of study groups would be popular and intellectually challenging, helping to remake the IRP into the extraordinary intellectual adventure it has been for so many people.
When Markowitz turned 80, he retired. At the same time, The New School found that they no longer had the classroom space to host the organization, ushering in a period of anxiety. Members took on the responsibility of looking for a new home in academic institutions around the city. After many meetings and much negotiation, the group became part of The Graduate Center of CUNY, acquiring a new director, Mariel Villeré, and a new name LP2, or the Lifelong Peer Learning Program. The move to our new institutional home in May 2020 was in the midst of a global pandemic. Members demonstrated their resilience as they shifted seamlessly in a week from in-person to remote learning and teaching and incorporating Zoom into their daily lives with new words like “unmute,” “social distancing,” and “PPE.”