More No-Confidence Votes Against NYU's Administration

Categories: NYU

PlanetNYUCover.jpg
NYU's insurrection isn't dying down -- it's accelerating.
Ever since the faculty of New York University's core division, the School of Arts and Sciences, voted no confidence in the administration of President John Sexton in March, Sexton has been on a charm offensive, promising angry professors that he will solicit their input and try to be a better listener going forward. So far, at least, that effort is falling flat, as more and more school constituencies continue to line up against him.

The faculty of NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development held its own no-confidence vote last week, and finished tallying the results yesterday. The result was overwhelming, with 117 faculty voting in favor of a statement of no confidence, 45 voting against, and 22 abstentions. The Gallatin School of Individual Study also narrowly voted no confidence in the administration, 23 to 21, with 6 abstaining. Meanwhile, NYU's troubled Tisch Asia program just held its own vote today. 19 faculty voted in favor of a no-confidence statement, one against, and two abstained.

There are more votes in the pipeline, too. The School of Social work will hold its own on Monday. Tomorrow, the Tisch School of the Arts will hold a procedural vote on whether to hold its own no-confidence vote. And members of NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan say some of the university's sites abroad are also considering votes. This isn't just about faculty, either; in March, the Union of Clerical, Administrative & Technical Staff at NYU voted 97 percent in favor of its own statement of no confidence.

The Voice first wrote about the factors driving NYU's faculty rebellion in our February cover story. Since then, with the drumbeat for Sexton's resignation getting louder, the course for the school's board of trustees, which until now has declared unwavering support for Sexton, becomes increasingly complicated. Members of the dissident faculty have met with trustees in recent weeks to explain that their frustration extends well beyond the Sexton-led plan for expansion of the New York City campus.

"We told the trustees that even though we're Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, we weren't there to talk about the plan because it's only one part of a much larger problem," said Mark Crispin Miller, an NYU professor of media studies. "We were there for one-and-a-quarter hours, and we talked about all sorts of things, but it all had to do with faculty losing control academically and being kept in the dark financially, as well as being largely underpaid and exploited. The expansion plan is just the straw that broke the camel's back."

Miller was also careful to connect the struggle at NYU with wider trends in higher education.

"What's happening at NYU is happening all over the country," he said, referencing the recent battles over the future of Cooper Union and St. Louis University. "Nationwide, the professoriat has awakened to the fact that higher education is in trouble because it's being managed like the worst kind of corporate enterprise. These votes of no confidence are an expression of resistance and may portend the unionization of University professors in America."

NYU Spokesman John Beckman disputes faculty activists' suggestion that momentum is building against Sexton, however. "The notion that there's some single consensus is incorrect," he told the Voice in an email. "If one looks altogether at the votes that have been taken, only by a slim margins do those expressing no confidence exceed those who have either expressed outright support, voted against no confidence measures, or abstained."

Beckman pointed to recent administration gestures towards greater faculty involvement, including faculty committees on the use of space, on the university's global programs, and on the use of technology, as well as the recent outreach by trustees, who, he noted, continue in their "unwavering support" of Sexton. "They have confidence in John, and in his leadership, and they see NYU thriving under his stewardship," he said.

Beckman acknowledged that while a "core group" of dissidents won't be satisfied by anything less than Sexton's resignation, he doesn't believe that view is shared by the majority of the faculty. "John and his leadership team are and will continue to be responsive to the concerns being raised by faculty. NYU's faculty are thoughtful, reasonable, and fair-minded people; they will be open to seeing their issues concretely addressed, as we have started and will continue to do."

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[npinto@villagevoice.com] [@macfathom]

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7 comments
OceanDrive
OceanDrive

Companies, both private and public, disclose the finances  (at least generally) of large scale projects to interested parties.   After years of not receiving anything from Sexton's administration other than drawings of gigantic buildings, I'm starting to believe that they are either hiding something (i.e., tuition will increase even further, student aid will be cut, or class sizes will increase) or that they are just financially incompetent.

Quixote3
Quixote3

One thing they appear to be hiding, is their astonishing collusion in the prosecution of Raphael Golb, an Internet blogger who used a variety of pseudonyms and "Gmail confessions" in the "voice" of a department chairman to sarcastically expose the alleged plagiarism of said chairman.  For documentation of the case including excerpts from the trial testimony of NYU deans, see: http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

OceanDrive
OceanDrive

Living in the Village and graduating from NYU a number of years ago, I can tell you that NYU is too big for its own good.  There is a problem when a University costs its students $60K per year and is saying it wants to get even larger.  That is not good for Greenwich Village, New York, the U.S. and especially not indebted students.  There is no reason NYU cannot function as a respected college w/ less students or at least the same amount of students. 

NYU spends its money recklessly (like new gym equipment every three years) but cuts back on salaries and increases class sizes.  How can these same administrators be trusted with a $6+ billion expansion plan?

petitemaoiste
petitemaoiste

 I agree with TruthToPower. Under President Sexton's rule, we see administrative bloat (dozens of Provosts and others making in the 100K range. As was the case with Jack Lew, others were granted huge loans adding up to millions of dollars. Dr. Sexton earns in the million range as well. This corporate model at the top is designed to oversee a system where there is far fewer job security -about half tenured professors and the rest low paid contract faculty and adjunct - higher and higher tuition, and a franchise model akin to a global brand rather than to a liberal arts university. Students are parked abroad paying huge fees to study with exploited adjunct faculty (NYU Florence is the most egregious example, where NYU fired teachers with over a decade of dedicated care and mentoring to students rather than give them job security per a new Italian law). Outsourcing education with low overhead, thus freeing up beds and classrooms in New York, moving students like chess pieces from place to place, is the corporate strategy behind what could be, with proper faculty governance and fiscal responsibility, an enriching opportunity for students to learn abroad. Faculty at home departments have little if any say in the course offerings at a number of sites, and thus concern regarding the quality of education. Some departments are being pressured to send a quota each year. Meanwhile, many faculty members strongly object to the other 2 "nodes' (or is it "portals") NYU-Abu Dhabi and NYU-Shanghai (the latter is having trouble finding students, one of many examples of financial and other problems at these mismanaged sites, Tisch Asia is the most dramatic example) on both scholarly and human rights grounds. Faculty in AD in particular are given bonuses, leaves, luxury travel and accommodations while those dedicated members of the now NYU-NY (an absurd and telling redundancy New York University New York) community are earning less and less, with less benefits and fewer tenured colleagues to support the administrative tasks of running a department. As a member of the faculty at NYU (if you haven't already guessed) I am seeing more students coming to my office in distress due to financial worries - working several jobs, doing poorly in class as a result, worse still, dropping out, and/or suffering severe psychological stress, all due to the prohibitive costs of this once relatively diverse university. (in fact, I, a "minority" and an immigrant whose parents are middle class, attended NYU thanks to financial aid, and a fair amount of part time work) Because I love NYU, am proud to work among such collegial and brilliant people -tenured like me or untenured-and look forward to teaching each day because of our bright, motivated students, I strongly oppose what I view as the Sexton Administration's disastrous stewardship of the university.

Quixote3
Quixote3

How interesting that at least two NYU professors seem to feel compelled to use pseudonyms to comment about this issue.  Let's not forget NYU's collusion in the prosecution of Raphael Golb, who used a variety of colorful pseudonyms and deadpan (and hence, according to New York Internet cops, criminal) satire to expose the alleged plagiarism of the former Jewish Studies chairman, who has since resigned from his position at NYU and taken an administrative post at Yeshiva University.  The case is currently coming up for review to the New York Court of Appeals in Albany on First Amendment grounds, but NYU faculty members remain silent about this basic assault on free speech and humanistic values that took place under John Sexton's watch.  They remain silent, above all, on the issue of the alleged plagiarism, which apparently remains uninvestigated both at NYU and at Yeshiva University.  For documentation of the case including excerpts from the trial testimony of NYU deans, see: http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

TruthToPower
TruthToPower

It's not so much that faculty here at NYU (myself included) are simply angry -- although, yes, it has now gotten to that point, given just how tone-deaf and unresponsive our trustees have been to the faculty's concerns long before the very first (of now many and still more to come) Votes of No Confidence was passed this year. (Beckman's typically snide quote, stupidly quibbling with numbers is entirely symptomatic of this dismissiveness.) Rather, it is that we, the teachers and mentors directly responsible for our student's intellectual experience and growth during the formative time they enter our care, are CONCERNED and alarmed in the extreme about the direction that Pres. Sexton and the trustees are taking NYU the University, as we see it turn before our eyes into NYU the Real Estate Tycoon and Bottomless Bank to Wealthy Cronies (remember Jack Lew, everyone?). While the top brass and their friends shamelessly return time and time again to the trough, the financial burden of growing and growing and growing the university's footprint (and brand) both here and abroad is being shouldered by those NOT mentioned in this article ... but in many others, including Mr. Pinto's superb cover-piece "Planet NYU" on Feb. 20th. And that's the students and their families, stretched financially to snapping point. 

About two years ago, at Alumni Day, NYU President John Sexton told an audience of alumni and guests assembled at the Skirball Center, “NYU isn’t for everyone.” This was said in response to a question by an alumnus regarding NYU’s climbing tuition and living costs. Little did Mr. Sexton realize how right he was. NYU sure isn’t for everyone, as so many of our student's plights (the worst being the crushing amount of loan debt that they'll still be paying off when they're having kids of their own) makes all too painfully clear. Under the current administration’s watch, NYU is no longer just tuition dependent. It has become debt dependent. With student debt now climbing beyond $1 trillion and outstripping credit card, the debt bubble is on the verge of bursting. What will become of our university when it does? Jack Lew and Mr. Sexton, he of the $1.4 million/yr salary (not including a golden parachute of his own) won't have to worry. It's the students who bear the brunt. And the cost is unconscionable -- a disgrace to anyone other than our hermetically-isolated, trustees, as well-connected and rich as they are deaf and blind to the growing fiscal and academic crisis -- and the crisis of confidence in leadership -- swelling all around them in plain sight.

Yes, certainly the question that Pinto brings up again remains: How DOES the NYU administration’s 20-year-long, $4-6 billion ViIllage expansion (NYU 2031) -- not to mention our now-13 (or is it 14? 15?) abroad sites, or "nodes," "portals" and "zones," as the admin now calls them, so as to keep track -- fit into all of this? If the land grab here downtown indeed materializes in its present overwhelming scale (close to 2 million sq. feet, only 18% of which is even intended for instructional academic use in the first decade of construction!!!), it will come with a fearsome cost. Not only the neighboring community that has so long sustained the University with its cultural and economic vibrancy but NYU's own intellectual community -- its faculty, students and a growing number of dismayed alumni, whose degrees are becoming devalued by the month – know full well what is in danger of being lost. For faculty, like myself, the price is the erosion of faculty governance, which has never been so imperiled at our University, and, as I mentioned earlier, our stewardship of the students placed in our trust. In light of the University’s modest endowment (about $2.5 billion, compared to Harvard's $29 billion), who do you think will be saddled with most of the bill for the administration’s behemoth construction project? The same students already paying over $58,000 in tuition, room and board per year and whose numbers are increasing annually, thanks to a lax admissions policy, currently responsible for an admissions rate around 33-35% (compared to the Ivy League schools' high-selectivity of 9-11%, with Columbia hovering around 10%). Just this past fall, NYU claims to have "accidentally" had an over-yield of 10-15% ... all the while hiking tuition costs another 3.8%! Is it not enough that our student body is the MOST indebted of any private university, the average graduate owing as much as $41,000 in loans, well over the national average? When asked about our students working not one but two or even three jobs to make a dent in their tuition, Sexton's response, at the City Council public hearing last summer, was that what this means is that ... they're industrious! Nearly every one in the City Council chamber fell out of their chairs. They're BROKE, Pres. Sexton, broke -- and bone tired, unable to do their best academically because of the multiple jobs they're having to hold down. Yet how does Team Sexton expect to may for the giant expansion here and the proliferating sites abroad, from Abu Dhabi to Shanghai? More and ever more students, paying higher and higher tuition, of course. We'll fit them in SOMEWHERE, if not in New York, there must be some beds in Prague or Berlin, no?

Meanwhile, according to Newsweek’s latest national college rankings, NYU ranks a shameful 4th in the “least affordable college” category among all institutions, public and private. As everyone knows, there is no more punishing, unforgiving debt than student debt. Yet, while we're among the “top-ranked" in student debt, we have recently come in #97 in this year's Forbes Magazine "American's Best Colleges" rankings. In the more respectable U.S. News & World Report rankings for NYU, we're in the low 30s ... where we've been for years now, despite ever-rising tuition and ever-increasing numbers of purple flags flying in cities on virtually every continent. These are Sexton's money-swinging global franchises, you see. And he and the trustees are particularly proud of this development. Even though they're hemorrhaging money left and right -- and now holding their OWN Votes of No Confidence in the administration! The academic mission, meanwhile, has been lost along the way to the bank. Something is very wrong here. While the administration may tolerate academic shortcuts as long as it maintains its bottom line, our concerned faculty demands better. Our students deserve better, much better.

If NYU IS indeed so flush with money (which it is not) that it can afford a 2 million-square-foot expansion here in NY, shouldn’t most if this endowment, to say nothing of Sexton's and the upper-admin's obscene salaries and endless bonuses go toward our academic mission, rather than the administration’s relentless global branding campaign? That is to say, the retention and hiring of exceptional faculty; more stable and secure, tenure-track teaching positions; a fair but rigorously demanding admissions policy; much better student-to-faculty ratios; smaller classes, featuring more seminars, colloquia and tutorials; and, perhaps above all else, more generous financial aid packages. Surely, these are the things – not square footage, not ever-expanding building footprints, not endless global satellites – that make a university really great?

Quixote3
Quixote3

In addition to the little laundry list provided above of things that "make a university really great," there is the issue of adherence to basic humanistic values, a concept that seems to have been deplorably neglected over the past decade at NYU.  Again, let us consider the obscene prosecution of the "Dead Sea Scrolls provocateur" at the behest of NYU officials, who quite manifestly appear to have used their influence to silence, smear, and incarcerate an outspoken critic of the well-known, "respected" former Jewish Studies department chairman.  For details, see the complete documentation of the trial and ongoing appeal at: http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/.  Beyond this collusion in a malicious prosecution, there is the continuing failure of NYU faculty members to address, even with a single statement, the issues raised by the abusive trial that took place, simply to protect the reputation of a well-known department chairman.  The "distinguished" chairman then simply took off for another university, in the middle of the academic year, without any previous announcement or explanation of his departure.  This is a moral stain on the entire faculty of this institution, and it will continue to fester for years to come until it is openly and appropriately addressed.

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