NYU's globalization of education looks a lot like the offshoring of labor and industry in the 1990s: A multinational corporation makes more widgets for less money and uses the savings to grow even more. But while the administration is enthusiastically milking the GNU, faculty members remain skeptical of programs run in partnership with authoritarian regimes and with little academic quality control from professors in New York. "Abu Dhabi, who would want to go there?" Miller asks. "Are you kidding? You're not even allowed to have a camera on the street there! Or be gay! Or be Jewish!"

In fact, with student and faculty participation in the GNU still lagging behind its hyper-aggressive targets, the administration has had to resort to informing departments that some of their funding will be conditioned on more enthusiastic cooperation.

If this dramatic growth threatens to burden students with more debt, reduce tenured-faculty-to-student ratios, and erode the quality of education itself, why is the administration pursuing it? Some faculty members blame Sexton's ego, accusing him of having an "edifice complex." Others, like Miller, note that NYU's board of trustees is stacked with financiers, real-estate moguls, and even the owner of a company that sells high-interest student loans—precisely the interests that stand to benefit from NYU's expansion.

Photo by Steve and Sara Emry
Photo by Steve and Sara Emry
The Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation rallied against NYU’s proposed plan last year. Its fate is now tied to president John Sexton’s.
Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
The Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation rallied against NYU’s proposed plan last year. Its fate is now tied to president John Sexton’s.


View a Google map of the "NYU 2031" area:

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Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis at NYU and a vocal critic of the administration, suggests that there's something more systemic going on: The American university may be assuming a strange new role. Ross argues that the "interlocking directorates" of power theorized by C. Wright Mills 50 years ago—corporate, governmental, and military interests—is being updated. Universities like NYU, he says, are becoming "players in their own right."

The NYU faculty itself is less of a united front than a sprawling United Nations, ranging from the Tisch School of the Arts to the Stern School of Business to the College of Arts and Sciences. An issue that irritates the more classically left-leaning faculty of arts and sciences may not trouble the faculty of the business school or the medical school at all. But the Sexton administration's actions over the last decade have ruffled enough feathers that a surprisingly diverse coalition is lining up against him.

For some, the ill will dates back more than a decade, when the administration fought tooth and nail to prevent graduate students from unionizing. That battle went all the way to the National Labor Relations Board, which issued a landmark ruling in 2000 affirming their right to organize. The administration waited for Bush appointments to change the composition of the NLRB, then promptly appealed the ruling, winning a victory that quashed the union in 2005.

Other faculty members say the reason for widespread hostility to Sexton is much simpler. "NYU is now a majority non-tenure-track faculty," says Rebecca Karl, an East Asian studies professor. "It's been trending that way for a while, but since Sexton it's taken a quantum leap."

The assault on tenure was only made worse by piecemeal, bean-counter-driven initiatives like one in 2007, after a botched merger with Mt. Sinai Hospital left the NYU Medical School with a budget deficit. To close the gap, the school brought in Price Waterhouse Cooper. One of the recommendations that came out of that process was that professors should raise their own salaries with outside grants, and that tenure no longer be a guarantee of a minimum salary—a policy that was then imposed not just on new faculty members, but also retroactively on tenured professors.

"They basically said, we can't fire you, but we don't have to guarantee what we pay you, either," says Marie Monaco, a professor in the department of physiology and neuroscience. "It undermined the whole function of tenure, which is intellectual independence." When faculty members pushed back against the Medical School dean's plan, Sexton sent out a letter. "Tenure at NYU does not guarantee a particular salary," he wrote, "nor does it prohibit the reduction of a faculty member's salary if he or she is not meeting the requirements of his or her faculty responsibilities."

The effect of these developments, says Miller, is a faculty that is fragmented, frightened, and angry. "The administration—these guys don't fuck around," he says. "If you don't have tenure, you're vulnerable. And if you do have tenure, they're still going to come at you." In this climate of fear, the broad resistance to the 2031 plan amounts to something like armed mutiny. And Stern was far from the only NYU faculty to vote against it: To date, 39 departments and divisions out of 170 have passed resolutions expressing concern or outright opposition.

When the administration put forward the expansion plan, it didn't even bother to ask the faculty for its blessing. But tenured professors in the College of Arts and Sciences—the university's traditional academic core—have long had at least a nominal voice in the decisions of the university through their Faculty Senate Council, a representative body of elected professors. And as these senators watched more and more administrative decisions being made without what they considered adequate consultation of the faculty, they became increasingly concerned that NYU was becoming more a business than a school, that the lofty ideals of education were being forgotten—or thrown under the bus.

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