Yesterday, president John Sexton took to the podium for this semester’s Town Hall meeting. No occupying happened this time, although NYUnited did account for a good percentage of those present. JSex himself came a little bit more dressed up this time—a suit jacket and shirt in place of the cobalt blue Brooklyn Prep sweatshirt he donned at the last meeting.
Unlike last semester, when attendees wrote down their questions and members of the Student Senators Council sorted them out of a fishbowl, students simply wrote their names on raffle tickets and were chosen at random to have their questions heard. Here are the issues they presented:
NYUnited and the NYPD Surveillance of Muslims:
The president of the Islamic Student Association, [ed: NYUnited is the name of the event]
NYUnited, spoke at length on this troubling issue on behalf of the thirty or so members present. He asked Sexton to publicly condemn the NYPD in the form of an official public statement and to send a letter to all alumni, students, and staff to ensure the issue is not overlooked. Furthermore, he asked Sexton to urge the NYPD to detail the extent of their surveillance on Muslim students at NYU.
Sexton responded that he is committed to the safety of his students and to communicating with Commissioner Kelly to resolve the issue. “We learned about this at the same time you learned about this. We want all of our students to feel completely safe here. We’ll do our best and we take this very seriously.” He remarked that this was an issue for all of us, not just Muslim students. NYU works hard to ensure its students are safe, but “we don’t [always] have the power to affect the behavior of others.”
Hillary Brandenburg, an RA at Brittany Hall, expressed concerns that the RAs and professional staff who work at Brittany Hall would be dislocated when the freshman dorm closes for its extreme makeover in December.
Mark Wais, Vice President for Student Affairs, commented that all members of the staff will be accommodated. In addition to recognizing the hard work that student staff members put in towards the betterment of student life at NYU, Sexton agreed that the renovation of Brittany Hall will not cause any major disturbances with regard to the residence staff.
Sexton then took a (friendly?) stab at NYU Local when he commented that “just because you read it in NYU Local doesn’t mean anyone else is saying it.” JSex then turned to EIC Myles Tanzer and, as the two had a moment, the laughter in the room made it pretty damn clear that a lot of pretty great people read NYU Local.
Grad Students and Unions:
A graduate student asked if NYU would abide by the new ruling if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) returned to the precedent of allowing graduate students to unionize. Sexton responded by saying that NYU can in fact appeal the decision, but pointed out the benefits that NYU already gives its graduates under the current ruling.
“Our fully funded doctoral students have the following arrangement: They have free tuition, they have stipends, which we’re committed to keeping in the Top 10 in the country, and the same health benefits as faculty. In return, they don’t have obligations, they don’t have to teach.”
Financial Aid is Insufficient (What Else is New?):
Unsurprisingly, the issue of the financial burden placed on undergraduates came up once more, as did the ever-pressing question: “What is NYU doing to help undergrads with their college debt?”
“I want you to know that there is no issue that eats at me day in and day our more than this issue about financial aid.” Sexton said, “It is our top fundraising priority, and specificially financial aid for undergraduate students.”
Here we got into numbers. Frankly, Sexton said, NYU does not have an ideal endowment—which for the president is the root of the problem. At about $60k per student, the endowment is one-third of what we need and one-fourth of the ideal. He compared that to other schools in our tier who can provide approximately $1.5mil to $2mil per student.
Sexton takes the fact that 85% of enrolled undergrads hold jobs as a sign that we all really love this school and really want to be here. 50% of undergrads work two jobs and 3%, 500 students, work three jobs in addition to their full-time course load.
There have been successes as well as mistakes in our past that have led to this current state. In 2007, NYU managed to cut administrative costs by 15% which gave us savings of $100mil a year, most of which was put into financial aid. But up until 1995, the university’s investment portfolio rode primarily on bonds. That earned the school only one-fifth of what we could have earned in equities.
“[But] that’s part of our history. I’m not embarrassed to say this is what we are. I wish I could say this as a situation that will be solved within my lifetime. I will die trying to get this done.”
Unfortunately, it seems that whenever the issue of insufficient financial aid is raised, the response is a shrug of the shoulders and a note of pity from Sexton.
The Community Board’s Rejection of the 2031 Plan:
Patrick Galager, a grad student, raised the point that resistance to the 2031 plan has been both within the NYU community and in the broader Greenwich Village community. Many are uncomfortable with the idea of NYU shouldering enormous construction costs and undergoing a long and daunting expansion project when the endowment is already insufficient to cover student financial aid.
“There’s an awful lot of misinformation out there,” Sexton responded, “and there are people who would like to get the water boiling for various reasons. Unless we’re prepared to say this university is as good as it’s ever going to be, we need more space.”
With construction costs and interest rates at a low, the next few years, according to Sexton, are the optimal time in which to expand. “The expansion is a pay-for-itself activity,” built on borrowing. And since we are using a lot of the land we already own, we save money we would otherwise have spent to buy the land in the first place.
In response to the Community Board’s dissent, Sexton basically said “you can’t please everyone.” We’re not sure if this still holds true when the vote was a unanimous “nay.” “The Community Board vote is not surprising… It’s like no matter what NYU does, it’s wrong.” Sexton has compromised with the Board in the past and NYU is continually in conversation with them to ensure we have a little a corrosive effect on the community around us as possible while we try to meet the demands of the shape-shifting world of higher education.
But in the end, it sometimes seems like we’re choosing between surmountable college debt and a university that keep up with the advances made in current and new fields of study.
Sustainability In NYU’s Expanding Projects:
A Steinhardt undergrad questioned the measures that NYU is taking to ensure that no environmental hazards will result from the expansions. He brought attention specifically to the delicate ecosystems of birds and rats and the environmental impact of temporary buildings.
Sexton pointed out that the 2031 plan is not a plan for continuous construction at a single site for twenty years. Construction will be taking place south of Washington Square, but regardless of where the work takes place NYU is dedicated to the preservation of green space and environmental maintenance.
Starting with this semester’s meeting, all Town Hall gatherings from here on will be tape recorded and transcribed. The videos will be put up on YouTube until a website is developed that will serve as the online hub for all things Town Hall. If you want your turn to personally tell JSex how much our financial aid sucks or ask him to solve the Astor Place wind-tunnel problem, look out for the next Town Hall meeting in the fall.