A protest at NYU on November 17, 2011. (Credit: Rebecca Nathanson)
This article was adapted from Noted. A version was printed in the September 2-9, 2013 issue.
When The New York Times reported earlier this summer that New York University gave large loans for vacation homes to administrators and star professors, the news was not met with much shock downtown. After months of faculty votes of no confidence against President John Sexton, and amid revelations of huge bonuses given to top administrators (which prompted Senator Chuck Grassley to launch an investigation into how NYU uses its tax-exempt status), faculty, staff and students have come to expect such things.
The news followed more than a year of organizing against NYU 2031, an eighteen-year campus expansion plan that will add 6 million square feet to the campus and cost $6 billion. So far, thirty-nine resolutions have been passed against the plan, most citing its financial irresponsibility. But it was the combination of this controversial plan and the increasingly top-down leadership style of Sexton and the board of trustees that prompted NYU’s arts and science faculty to organize the first no-confidence vote in March. The vote itself is symbolic, although a similar one against Harvard president Larry Summers led to his resignation in 2006.
NYU is the most expensive private university in the country. Its students graduate with an average debt load of $35,000. With its ever-expanding roster of campuses around the world, NYU also leads the way toward the corporatization of higher education. Resistance to this model of university governance is only gaining momentum, however, as more and more facts about the administration are unearthed. “Faculty are angry that the administration and the trustees have endangered NYU’s standing by adopting the ways of Wall Street,” says Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis and the president of NYU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, “and we are all the more resolved to push for a complete overhaul.”
Yesterday, in a university-wide e-mail, the NYU Special Committee of the Board of Trustees responded to the tension and outrage that has defined NYU in recent months. The committee announced that John Sexton will resign as president once his term ends in 2016, noting that it is still "extremely satisfied with the direction and leadership of the University." The e-mail also stated that the university will stop using its housing assistance mortgage program to buy vacation homes for administrators. Additionally, it outlined various ways in which the Board hopes to increase communication with faculty and the rest of the NYU community, writing that the search committee for Sexton's successor will include both faculty and students. But if NYU faculty, students and workers have learned anything in the past few years, it's that there exists a large gap between words and action.