"The whole thing about a collegial culture, where people debate, discuss, that way of operating that is done at major universities all the time, it's scoffed at here," says Christine Harrington, the political science professor. "At the same time, we're seeing these enormous salaries for administrators coming in at a school where we all have students with huge debt. It seemed like there was something out of whack."

As Sexton moved forward with the 2031 plan last school year, Harrington, psychology professor Jim Uleman, and other members of the Faculty Senate Council decided they didn't need the administration's permission to poll the faculty or voice their own position. They began to hold open meetings for tenured faculty. "At first they were sparsely attended," says Karl, the Asia scholar. "But that changed quickly."

In advance of a meeting scheduled last November, a rumor circulated that one of the topics of discussion would be whether to hold a no-confidence vote; more than 70 faculty members showed up, not all of them critical of the administration. The philosophy department, for example, supported Sexton, as did biology professors, eager for new labs promised by the 2031 plan. "It was a rumble," Karl says. "Let's say there was a 'vigorous and frank exchange of ideas.' " At the end of the meeting, the first of what would become three votes took place, with a majority choosing to authorize a faculty-wide referendum on whether to hold a no-confidence vote. "Governance at this university has been so weak for so long, we were making the procedure up as we went along," Karl says.

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.

For the second vote, held in December, the rebel faculty members took pains to institute unimpeachable procedures. They tapped computer-science professors to help devise anonymous e-voting for tenured faculty. They brought in the president of the Roberts Rules of Order Society of New York to preside as an independent parliamentarian to rule on any questions of protocol. And they tried, at least, to get an actual list of tenured faculty members. "The administration wouldn't give us that list," Harrington says. "That's what this has come to."

After cobbling together a list department by department, the organizers went ahead with the meeting. More than 270 faculty members attended, debated, and voted—and, once again, the decision was clear: The faculty wanted to hold a vote of no confidence in Sexton and his administration. It will be held next month, just before spring break.

There's nothing formally binding about the no-confidence vote, of course. Even if he loses, Sexton could still charge ahead with his agenda. But votes like this tend to have serious implications. Larry Summers stepped down as president of Harvard after losing one in 2005, and just last summer, when the faculty of the University of Virginia voted no confidence in their school's Board of Visitors after it ousted President Teresa Sullivan, the board reversed itself and reinstated her.

The coming vote is framed as a referendum on John Sexton specifically, but its supporters say it's actually about the definition of the university. "Are the faculty just worker drones here who follow the direction of the administration, with their big visions and big salaries?" Miller asks. "That's not what the university is supposed to be. Who's really the university? It's the students, and it's the teachers."

Miller and his allies say they're confident that most faculty members agree with them. They'll find out on March 15.

npinto@villagevoice.com

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20 comments
bbmw
bbmw

And what are the faculty malcontents going to do when Sexton and the board simply ignore your vote?  It's not binding on anything or anyone.  They have no real power.  If they really want to express their "outrage", they should simply quit, and find a job at a college whose policies match their politics.

NYU, on it's part should simply eliminate tenure in its entirety.

majorray
majorray

 Hmmmm. This sounds a lot like congress. A vote of ~ 49 to 1 in favor of the  NYU Sexton plan in the city council means "stop the fool" in village language. I get your point, but I am an independent, who believes that very tall, narrow, and beautiful towers would have reduced the NYU village footprint and could have served as a key citywide landmark for the village. What short stumpy and ugly NYU building will be the village landmark now? Can I see it from Brooklyn?

jdavidsen1
jdavidsen1

Can't help wondering what more and more big and ugly is going to do to surrounding property values. 

johnbrownrising
johnbrownrising

Sadly, the only way to make an impact on the bankers, financiers, and real estate developers who control NYU, and most of American higher education, is to threaten their oxygen supply. A world-wide boycott of NYU, headquartered in New York City, by New Yorkers - as a pointed response to the criminality and moral bankruptcy of the university's overlords, would, in my view, be in order. Flush these vultures from their cesspools -- and put students and faculty back in positions of real power.

Everywhereguy
Everywhereguy

NYU sounds like the academic GM of the future: a behemoth that disastrously marries its future fortunes to doubling down on a steroid-powered version of legacy assumptions and a declining business plan.

The essential core goal of higher education is to facilitate the process of students gaining information and developing their thinking skills, so they end up with a "knowledge base" and "skillsets" that help them to have both successful professional lives and better overall lives (not everything is work, duh).

The core goal is promoted when students interact with good faculty who can communicate well and help them along by giving good feedback and advice. 

That student-faculty interaction process simply no longer requires sprawling physical plant and its attendant costs and impacts on the community where it's located. -- The internet is where higher ed is going,  and that's already happening in areas of higher ed where there is no vast existing physical plant in use that (within the narrow perspective of how things "have always been done") needs to be expanded and updated to be continuously "improved".

I understand that NYU will in all likelihood carry on with one or another of two legacy modes (either that favored by upper admin, or that favored by tenured faculty). I'm not so utopian as to think I can convince them to abandon beliefs that the individuals involved have held for decades.

But higher education will evolve in the non-physical direction going forward, regardless. As admin people used to say when I worked at NYU full-time in the 90s and they were striving to become the quasi-Ivy they so clearly were not in the 40s through the 80s, "the shark drowns unless it keeps swimming forward." In other words, as higher ed and society develop and evolve, institutionally staying in the same place is actually falling behind and eventually dying.

That saying applies here. Doing a "steroid version" of an outdated mode of higher ed is the shark refusing to swim forward. Good luck with that, guys.



 




Jason547
Jason547

Interesting debate. I heard John Sexton speak once... truly impressive and inspirational. Really seemed to love NYU itself, rather than "development" that he seems to be being accused of.

I love the Village - lived there for a number of years - alphabet city. Not sure anything can be "preserved". Who is it being preserved for - the wealthy who want to move in and close the gate behind them? My Village disappeared years ago. Now it is filled with yuppies and yuppie shops.

"Progress" is a complicated matter. Progressives are usually against it.

Peace and love...

If_Truth_Be_Told
If_Truth_Be_Told

Whatever the result of the Vote of No Confidence in Pres. Sexton next month, the game is up. The Emperor has no clothes; nor does he apparently have a conscience. This much anyone who has been following this administration’s shameless land-grab in the Village and insatiable ambitions abroad now knows to be true. My department colleagues at NYU – one of 39 (and counting) to have passed resolutions against the academically unexplained and fiscally reckless expansion plan – certainly knows, and we will all vote our own conscience come March. The opportunity to make our voices heard cannot come soon enough. There is far too much at stake to stay silent any longer. While faculty opposition may not be unanimous, it is overwhelming. It is also unprecedented at NYU. As Mr. Pinto rightly explains, faculty outrage surrounding Sexton & Co. has been a long time brewing and is hardly based solely on NYU 2031, which, if anything, was simply the final straw. The inexplicably aggressive expansion is only most blatant manifestation of the unilateral, tone-deaf way that this top-down administration operates, ignoring the faculty just as it does the neighboring community. (NYU administration and “responsible landlord,” mentioned in the same sentence? Seriously?) Time and time again, Sexton has inexplicably antagonized the faculty, failing to realize that, as Mark Crispin Miller rightly says, it is precisely the faculty and students who are the very lifeblood of any educational institution worth its salt. Not Sexton, not the trustees, not the admin’s bloviating mouthpieces like John Beckman, not the bullying lawyers. Whatever megalomania has possessed him, Sexton has spurned every opportunity to involve the faculty in any substantive way in the decision-making process, itching for a fight with us instead. Well, he’s got one now. It is virtually unheard of for universities to move forward with an expansion like this one, due to run some $4-6 billion dollars, without the faculty’s support. Not only is there no internal support for Sexton’s plan, but there is staunch opposition and its’ only growing. What is at the core of faculty protest is a systemic pattern of costly mistakes, usually resulting, whether from negligence or ineptitude, from self-created hardships. Short-sighted and reactionary, every important decision becomes a crisis: damage control at its worst. Everywhere one now looks at NYU, it’s full-on triage, whether manifesting itself in the erosion of faculty governance; the offshoring of our students around the globe and the tail-wagging-the-dog phenomenon that’s the Global Network University, a “cash cow” that, in reality, is actually milking the university (and our students); $58,000/year price tag for tuition, room & board and exploding student debt; highly troubling multi-million dollar university loans to administration cronies and Sexton’s own stratospheric salary (the highest presidential base salary in the nation) at a time of faculty salary freezes and, worse, the aforementioned annual spikes in tuition (3.8% this year alone); ballooning admission (35% acceptance rate, compared to Columbia’s 10%) to pay for the out-of-control spending here and abroad; inadequate infrastructure and mismanagement of existing assets as revealed by Sandy, both at the Medical Center and on the Square; the shuttering of Tisch Asia, preceded by the firing of its popular Dean; the countless lawsuits currently facing the administration, surely making us the most sued university in the country. For the faculty, this isn’t about some hoped-for payoff or about “wanting [our] quaint neighborhood frozen in amber.” It’s a fight that is about nothing less than the future of our school – and our students. Or will they be burdened with paying off their loan debt when they’re having children of their own? It’s about our academic mission, rather than square footage and purple flags. FIRE and ICE? Meds and eds? It’s all BS. Like I said, this Emperor has no clothes.

GinnieM
GinnieM

NYU needs to stop using its students' tuition for things that don't benefit its students. Their tuition is already one of the highest in the country, and that money goes right to expansion. It's getting too big to keep hold of, and adding more classrooms only means NYU will continue to accept more students. That physics student (real or imagined) still won't be able to fit in a classroom because there will always be too many students.  Hell, if Stern professors are calling the university on not being able to pay for this plan, there's no reason the city can responsibly approve it. 

gold
gold

NYU has been great for the Village.  It was an anchor when the Village drastically declined in the late 60's and now NYU has great plans.  They have been a responsible landlord and deserve praise for their partnership with NYC. I laughed, however, at the "student athlete" reference.   

Louis Bardel
Louis Bardel

you guys have been writing this story for 15 years

Squared
Squared

Funny how every single article on this rebellion seems to quote the same two malcontents. Trying to figure out if they have too much time on their hands or they just really like to be in the spotlight.

TruthToPower
TruthToPower

@bbmwI recall you writing the very same thing, in response to a Villager article about NYU 2031 some months back. You, my friend, have a most promising and possibly lucrative future in the Sexton administration. You and our university president are exactly on the same page! Do away with tenure (something that Sexton would do in an instant, if only he could, so as to silence those "malcontents") and you do away with academic freedom. Voila! The freedom of faculty to actually speak their mind, to question, to do precisely what we are finally doing now: assembling, discussing, debating and, yes, voting. Since you are repeating your same old argument about the powerlessness of the faculty and the futility of any democratic debate and collective action, I will respond yet again. Maybe -- almost certainly -- you'll still disagree with me. But, who knows, maybe you'll at least understand our faculty position at least a little better.

Yes, a great many members of the faculty WILL leave NYU for its rival institutions if NYU 2031 becomes reality. "Let 'em go, who needs 'em?" you're probably thinking. They're all replaceable. Kind of like spare auto parts. Both distinguished older faculty and those starting not only their careers at NYU but also their families in the Village, many of them accepting their posts in the first place in large part thanks to the green space and playgrounds of the two Super Blocks that they now call home, will defect to other universities that both value and uphold faculty governance and care about the quality of life of their employees. NYU also will be raided for its top talent faster than you can blink. That will be the sad state of affairs for faculty retention. I may very well be one of the faculty to depart for another university. Again, I doubt that someone like you, who seems to believe that faculty are no more than droids and are there to simply do what they're told, to be the big cash earners for the administration but not to be heard, would be all that troubled. I would, in fact, very much like to hear from you who you think it might be who are doing all the teaching, the mentoring and the reference letter-writing for the 45,000 students and growing at NYU -- and what the role, if any, the faculty actually might be fulfilling in giving these students and their parents their "money's worth"? Now, as for faculty recruitment, to replace the dozens of exceptional faculty who will invariably depart? Best of luck to the current administration in convincing the most promising candidates -- in many cases holding offers from our other competitors -- to relocate their families to an ear-splitting, rat-infested twenty-year construction zone that, when actually completed, will more closely resemble Midtown than the Village that we all know and cherish ... and that has inspired faculty and students alike to travel oceans to join. And so, in the end, what quality of education will our students be receiving for their $55,000+ of tuition per year, to say nothing of the years of student debt (currently averaging $41,000 per student with loans to replay, more than $15,000 the national average)? Are you fine, then, with having more and more classes taught by cheap labor (adjuncts, graduate students, other contract faculty)? If so, good luck attracting any smart, motivated, high-achieving students, as opposed to a bunch of rich kids, arriving for the brand and little else. There are plenty of excellent institutions, here in NY alone, who would provide a superior destination for the former. Just like in any other endeavor, it's called competition.


Ultimately, however, it is not me or my fellow faculty that should be expected to leave. Not after working tirelessly, in many cases for decades, in elevating NYU to the reputation that the university and its alumni has enjoyed up to now. We are anything but resigned that this ill-conceived, academically unjustified, financially ruinous expansion is a done deal. Yesterday's victory at the court hearing, regarding disclosure of parkland-related documents (and the NYU administration's obstructionism), proves just that. Make no mistake, we're not going to stop fighting until all the fighting's done. The faculty isn't to blame for this entire sorry mess. And we're not going to allow Sexton and his minions to drive the university -- our university -- off a cliff. It is instead someone altogether different who should be doing the resigning. And, believe me, whatever you might think of the faculty's ability to make a difference in shaping the direction that our university takes, there is someone getting awfully nervous about his job on the 12th floor of Bobst. 

fortwo
fortwo

@Squared Sqared, are you threatening them by saying they have too much time on their hands? Maybe they are loafers and should have their pay reduced?

t.jenifer44
t.jenifer44

They are the spokesmen, do you have a problem with that?????

BBMW
BBMW

@TruthToPower 

The outcome of your insignificant little vote is a foregone conclusion.  Only the faculty members who are against this will bother to participate.  But in the end it doesn't matter.  It, and you, will simply be ignored.

That being the case, you have three options.  Quit your position, keep beating your head against the wall to no effect, or just shut up and teach your classes.  Either way, the administration will run NYU the way it sees fit, and there's really nothing you can do to change that.

Squared
Squared

@t.jenifer44 No, but if this sentiment is as widespread as claimed, it would be nice to see some evidence of that, rather than hearing from the same mouthpieces who seem to be the first to complain about every move NYU leadership makes. If there are grass roots, let's see 'em.

Ultimately, the vote will reveal how much faculty support this rebellion actually has, but this is the source of the parliamentary problem the faculty is facing. It's very possible that a vocal minority could achieve a quorum for the simple reason that the pissed-off professoriate will be the only portion that bothers to show up. I can't say I agree with everything Sexton has done in the Village, but this evil empire nonsense goes too far. He's done very fine work steering a very large piece of machinery and it's not right to besmirch his legacy with a no-confidence vote because some faculty are worried about the prospect of hearing jackhammers near their subsidized housing.

Anyway, if faculty believes faculty should be leading the university, let's see some leadership. I'm not talking about GNU-scale projects, but simple stuff. For example, non-tenure teaching staff currently have no representation on university councils. Tenured profs don't want to fold them into the faculty council, which seems a lousy move because it entrenches the tenured / non-tenured divide which is part of the reason central admin has a lot of power relative to faculty.

How about some solidarity there?

cpatell
cpatell

@monaco678@Squared@t.jenifer44The Voice article above is misleading on at least this one point: it states that FAS is a faculty numbering approximately 2,600. But that number includes the 1,900 "non-tenure teaching staff," who have been disenfranchised by the organizers of this vote (including my wife who is a Master Teacher  at Liberal Studies, which is part of FAS). The number that the article should put forward is 682: the number of eligible voters permitted to participate in the VNC.

Cyrus Patell
Associate Prof. of English, FAS
Associate Dean of Humanities, NYUAD

monaco678
monaco678

@Squared @t.jenifer44

Excuse me Squared, but the tenured faculty are opposed to the non-tenured faculty having TOKEN representation (a few seats) on the existing council for tenured/tenure track faculty.  Instead, the tenured faculty has supported the formation of an independent council for the non-tenure track faculty that would have equal representation within the University senate.  Two separate faculty councils within the Senate would strengthen the position of both tenured and non-tenured faculty.  So rather than trying to deny non-tenured faculty representation, the tenured faculty are advocating for FULL rather than TOKEN representation.  

 
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