N.Y.U. faculty elect to hold Sexton no-confidence vote

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  New York University Arts and Science faculty have decided to hold a vote of no confidence in the leadership of John Sexton, the university’s president for the past 11 years.

At a Dec. 13 meeting, 56 percent of the 279 faculty members supported holding the no-confidence vote. It will be a largely symbolic gesture but, if it were to pass, the vote would also likely send a powerful message to an administration that many believe is in the process of severely damaging Greenwich Village with its multibillion-dollar N.Y.U. 2031 expansion plans.

The impending no-confidence vote, which will not be held until March 11-15, highlights a sharp divide within the N.Y.U. community that has existed ever since the expansion was first proposed.

Last week, in advance of the Arts and Science faculty meeting, Martin Lipton, chairperson of N.Y.U.’s board of trustees, wrote a statement reaffirming the board’s full support for Sexton.

And in response to the Dec. 13 vote, N.Y.U. Faculty Against the Sexton Plan — a group with more than 400 members, which has brought legal action against the university administration over the expansion plans — released its own statement, calling N.Y.U. 2031 “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“It should now be clear to all that N.Y.U.’s faculty has lost its faith in this administration to lead N.Y.U. in a way that is educationally productive, inclusive and financially sound,” the  statement read. “The no-confidence vote is a response to a pattern of top-down decision making by President Sexton and his administration that has produced a crisis in faculty governance at N.Y.U.”

Arts and Science is the largest academic community at N.Y.U., comprising the College of Arts and Science, the Graduate School of Arts and Science and the Liberal Studies program. It is one of the 12 schools whose representatives comprise the N.Y.U. Faculty Senators Council.

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One Response to N.Y.U. faculty elect to hold Sexton no-confidence vote

  1. NYU 2031 is indeed but Pres. Sexton’s most publicized error in judgment amid a much broader pattern of gambles and questionable decision making. Where does one really begin? There are the growing threats to faculty governance, none graver than the rewriting of the Faculty Handbook, our constitution of sorts, without the Faculty Senate Council’s approval (the first time this has happened in NYU’s history); the mismanagement of our existing assets and the failures of infrasctructure, as revealed by Hurricane Sandy; the dizzyingly disorienting Global Network University (from Abu Dhabi to Shanghai), a tail-wagging-the-dog phenomenon if ever there was one, with no clear academic mission in sight; our increasingly lax admissions policy (35% acceptance rate at present), which is no doubt largely driven by the desire for an ever-greater number of warm (paying) bodies, all resulting in our currently overloaded student body, the largest of any private university in the U.S.; a now-enormous foreign student contingent (the vast majority from China, S. Korea and Singapore), as very few American families can shoulder $58,000 in tuition, room and board in this fragile economy; an anemic academic ranking, given our sky-high tuition and cost of NY life (#32 in US News & World Reports; #97 in Forbes); rising tuition (3.8% this year alone) and exploding student debt, making our students among the top-five most indebted student bodies in the nation … the list is far too long (and far too dispiriting) to mention here. So, the notion pushed by the legion of Sexton’s spokespeople that we are suddenly academic high flyers under this president is absurd. What we are fast becoming is a poster child for the "too big to fail" corporate-academic model. A university as global brand and real estate tycoon, rather than intellectual, pedagogical and creative pioneer. Andrew Martin’s recent NYT article “Building a Showcase Campus, Using an I.O.U.” could not have framed the problem more accurately. We have a president and a board of trustees with an Edifice Complex. And unfortunately it will be left to the faculty to pick up the pieces – and our students to pick up the tab. Everything on the 12th floor of Bobst seems to be about crisis management these days. Problems are created – more often than not due precisely to the lack of consultation with faculty and students, to say nothing of the surrounding community – and armies of administrators then race around putting out the fires. Has there been a more sued university in the country than our own this last year alone? Policy is thus always reactionary, short-term and short-sighted. Any would-be consultative process with the faculty and the Village community is but a well-rehearsed PR performance. It all reminds me of Karl Rove’s famous quote, uttered in the months before the 2004 reelection of George W. Bush about the “reality-based community,” made up of those who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality” … and those, like Rove, who create their own “new realities.” Well, our current administration certainly traffics in the latter kind of self-created “reality.” How both my departmental colleagues and I – many of us actually embracing one another after Thursday’s historic “no confidence” vote (a gesture usually reserved for a new baby or a new book!), so relieved we all were to simply have a chance to democratically assemble and vote – wish that things were different. To a person, we have the deepest love for our department, our students and NYU as an academic institution. This love is only matched by our deep distrust of the current administration and its unilateral, high-handed style of “leadership.” As the FAS vote last week makes clear, we are in desperate need for a new, responsible and responsive leader with the clarity of vision and the right temperament to take our institution back from the fiscal brink — and to restore the ideal of shared governance between administration and faculty that sadly has been lost under the current president.

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