New York University’s drive over the past decade to improve its academic reputation and global standing has almost without fail led to outrage at every turn.
NYU’s attempts to attract faculty by financing homes — and summer homes — in some of New York’s priciest zip codes have been derided as extravagant and unnecessary. The school’s partnership with Abu Dhabi on an international campus has led to cries that NYU is overlooking academic freedom concerns and human rights violations in favour of splashy headlines. A separate international partnership with China drew fire this week as Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng — an NYU fellow — claimed the university was forcing him out due to overseas pressure.
Perhaps most contentious, though, is NYU 2031, the university’s massive planned building expansion that critics argue will cost the school billions of dollars it shouldn’t be spending and irreversibly disrupt the Greenwich Village neighbourhood NYU calls home. NYU’s full throttled spending in the face of mounting student debt has provoked an inquiry from Senator Chuck Grassley as well as “no confidence” votes in president John Sexton from the faculty of four of NYU’s colleges.
However, despite the increasingly visible attacks on NYU from both inside and outside the institution, students have demonstrated a general apathy that is at odds with their professors’ public anger. Those students that have taken a side seem more often than not to place their trust with the NYU administration.
Every NYU student who spoke to Business Insider for this article said they personally supported the direction that Sexton is leading the school. These students acknowledged a general wariness of rising tuition on campus, but believed that the student body shared their overall support of the administration.
As one student pointed out, “all of the students have within the past four years chosen to attend NYU specifically or in part because of the success (in their eyes) of those policies and programs.”
Another student said that he would not be surprised if the majority of students shared his view that the faculty were “over-privileged, cloistered fools who can’t see the way the world is going.”
An open Town Hall meeting with Sexton after NYU 2031 officially gained city approval drew only 40 students — approximately one per cent of the student body — and attendance was termed “sparse” by the Washington Square News, NYU’s student newspaper. An article from this April quoted one student who expressed “surprise” that there was no student presence in “fighting NYU President John Sexton’s leadership.” By comparison, NYU’s faculty had formed an anti-Sexton advocacy group over a year prior.
The WSN has also featured columns from both graduate students and undergrads who praised Sexton’s leadership and the general direction of the university. A graduate biology student writes that “NYU is not some Frankenstein monster bent on the destruction of New York City. NYU is a powerhouse for the creative class and New York City’s global identity.”
Likewise, the WSN’s opinion editor describes Sexton as “the visionary who has elevated our university to the incredible level where it currently stands,” while calling the faculty’s outrage “a self-interested power grab that continues to denigrate and disregard the voice of those the university is built to serve — its students?”
This division unfortunately appears to have seeped into the classroom. One student said that when one of his professors announced to his class he would be voting “no confidence” in Sexton, the students “didn’t know why the faculty would want to take such a vote.”
“Our professor then railed about the pitfalls of studying abroad at NYU locations, about the best faculty getting sent to Abu Dhabi, about John Sexton just doing what he wants to do without faculty consultation. But we as students hadn’t felt the impact of those issues, and many said they were pleased with NYU’s study abroad and expansion programs.”
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