Looking down at the handful of unclaimed name tags minutes before the start of the VIP-only groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of NYU’s new campus in Washington, D.C., Gustave Fleury, NYU’s Senior Director of Stewardship and Special Events, clearly annoyed by the no-shows, sighed, “These people are unbelievable,” as the thirty or so attendees schmoozed and sipped champagne behind him. Four photographers roamed the crowd snapping pictures as a local ABC cameraman set up his gear.
The guest list was a serious who’s-who of NYU’s elite, bringing together the full university leadership team, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, DC campus planners, top donors, and the heads of the construction crew. All were gathered to celebrate the beginning of construction on NYU’s newest study-away site, the Constance Milstein and Family Academic Center (henceforth NYUDC), just blocks from the White House in the heart of the city.
Marty Lipton, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, spoke first. Lipton (whom NYU President John Sexton, appealing to his Brooklyn roots, called “a brother by another mother”) started with a familiar theme: the global network university. “[NYUDC] fits in with this concept that John Sexton has brought to fruition,” said Lipton. “But we have a great deal more to go.”
Sexton, speaking next, continued in that vein. “At first we thought ‘global’ was the most important of the three words…but we came to realize that the real word is university,” he said, stressing the ‘universe’ portion of university. He added that there should be “no barriers” within the school’s network and that NYUDC would help knock more of those down.
After a short speech from Dr. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Congressional delegate representing the District of Columbia, Sexton led the symbolic “groundbreaking,” complete with hardhats and shovels emblazoned with the purple NYU torch. Sexton had to pause for a moment to adjust his hardhat – “they don’t make these big enough for a presidential head,” he joked.
The actual groundbreaking should begin soon on the 12-story, 75,000 square foot building, which will include dorms on the upper floors for 125 students. Up to 150 students will have the opportunity to study in DC each semester, where regular coursework will be combined with an internship in the city. This is, obviously, ideal for students studying politics, economics, journalism, and history.
After the groundbreaking, the VIP crowd walked to the nearby St. Regis hotel, where around 400 other guests, mostly alumni, enjoyed catered food and an open bar. After a brief introduction mostly asking for donations to the new campus, Connie Milstein stepped up to the podium. Milstein, a real-estate manager and NYU trustee, donated $10 million to the project, earning her name in the building’s title and a lot of praise from Sexton, Lipton, and others throughout the night. Long a strong proponent of a DC branch, she spoke about the need for an NYU campus in the nation’s capital and echoed the evening’s excitement about NYU’s global push. “[Sexton’s] vision of the ‘global network university’ is no doubt one of the most brilliant ideas of our time,” she said.
Sexton then gave a 20 minute speech explaining that vision. He spoke with charisma and passion about the DC site, the expanding NYU network, and the new Abu Dhabi campus – “the world’s honors college.”
“Of every 50 students we accept at NYU New York, only one would get into NYU Abu Dhabi,” he bragged.
He also gave some advice to the Beltway crowd. “Sometime when you’re in an elevator going down and everyone is silent, you can break the silence with: ‘Really something that NYU’s global network university is here…,’” he said to laughter.
The celebration concluded with more mingling and more drinks. Dozens of people swarmed Sexton, clearly the star of the night, to hear him chat about his travels, his earlier teaching career, and his family. They were also rewarded with some photos from his iPhone that he shared intermittently.
One was of him wearing a turban, posing with three young burqa-wearing women. And, really, that sums up the night and highlights one of Sexton’s greatest skills: he’s never off message.
Roll over photos for descriptions. Click to expand.
Map of the location of the new campus (red) in relation to other landmarks:
View NYUDC in a larger map