Last night in his office in Bobst Library, NYU President John Sexton sat down with NYU Local and Washington Square News to discuss the past week of storm-related havoc wreaked on the University.
Earlier, Sexton–joined by NYU alum Alec Baldwin–had walked room-to-room in the Kimmel Center (for University Life), which was lined with cots of students whose dorms were evacuated earlier that day. The pair chatted with thousands of displaced students, many of whose spirits were raised to see the famous alum at their door. Sexton also announced that there will be a party for students in Bobst Library tonight from 7 pm to 10 pm, providing music, magicians and other entertainment.
The evacuation of those students, who represent a large portion of NYU’s dorm system, went off largely without a hitch, according to Sexton. About a quarter of the undergraduate student body is now staying in Palladium Hall and the Kimmel Center, and Sexton said that the response from Resident Assistants, students, and administrators to the evacuation “couldn’t make me prouder of our community.”
NYU faculty who lost power are also now being accommodated in Hemmerdinger Hall in the Silver Center and the lower concourses of Tisch Hall, both of which are fully powered. Students should be able to move back into their dorms once power is restored this weekend.
Although the major threats from the storm have passed, Sexton encouraged NYU employees and students to not leave campus and to continue to act cautiously while outside.
“The danger is not behind us yet. There is a way in which people can get complacent because the wind has stopped blowing and the water has stopped surging,” said Sexton. ”There are wires down, there are trees that are down or weak…and I’m worried a great deal about students putting themselves in jeopardy on streets that are intrinsically dark. It’s a very important time over the next few days to be patient with each other and be vigilant for each other.”
While at Kimmel and Bobst, Sexton took extra time to thank NYU employees, many of whom had not seen their families or homes since Sunday. Sexton and other officials at Bobst confirmed that some NYU employees’ homes were damaged or completely destroyed, including some employees who lived in or near the Breezy Point fire in Queens, which claimed 50 houses.
“They’ve kept us safe, they’ve kept us fed, they’ve kept us as warm as possible, and its just been a spectacular moment…of these people going above and beyond,” said Sexton. ”The one thing I would ask is that every member of our community that runs into one of these people over the next weeks keeps them in their minds and treats them with a smile and says thank you.”
Sexton’s office, which along with other Bobst offices is currently functioning as a command center for NYU officials, is coordinating with both the governor’s and mayor’s offices and the NYPD on handling damage and other issues in Greenwich Village area around NYU’s campus. No injuries or major damage have been reported on campus, and while most of Lower Manhattan is still without power, 40 NYU buildings have some form of power being supplied by NYU’s on-campus cogeneration plant.
“The team here, coordinated across offices, ranging from residential life, to student affairs, to IT, to security, to maintenance, to cleaning, has been doing such a spectacular job. The only word for it is heroic,” said Sexton.
While the disaster has been the primary focus for University officials, students and faculty also face an unprecedented week-long cancellation of classes, and Sexton wanted to reassure students that University departments would make every attempt to reschedule classes.
“We will do everything we can to facilitate make up classes. I would be surprised if in most, if not all cases that the work wasn’t made up,” said Sexton.
The University has been in contact with faculty, and instructed them to be understanding with delays in midterms and other assignments that were due this week.
“We have asked faculty to be understanding of the situation of students in regards to midterms and assignments… and I will fully expect faculty to relax, not on lower standerds, but on things like deadlines because of this interruption,” said Sexton.
The University also plans to assess its preparedness and review how the University will deal with natural disasters in the future, although Sexton said that dealing with the effects of the storm are the main focus at this time. But one area that the University is already receiving praise for is the evacuation of NYU’s Langone Medical Center last Monday.
Sexton, who surveyed damage at the Medical Center last night after visiting Kimmel and Bobst, praised the effort of administrators and medical staff at the hospital for their successful evacuation of over 300 patients to other city hospitals after the medical center’s backup generators stopped working. No casualties were reported during the evacuation, even though some patients had to be carried down over 15 flights of stairs. Sexton also said that President Barack Obama called him and Langone Medical Center officials to offer his gratitude for the evacuation.
“The heroism of those up at the hospital, as well as at all of our facilities, has been historic, and its something that should be recognized on a day-to-day basis,” said Sexton.
Although the evacuation is being commended, the news media has questioned the failure of the hospital’s backup generators during the hurricane. According to Sexton and Vice President for Health Bob Berne, the hospital’s generators themselves did not actually fail, as was previously reported. Rather, the fuel pumps that supply the generators failed due to flooding in the basement, and were only located there because city building codes required it. The generators, which are regularly tested, are located well above the flooded area and were never in danger of failing, according to Berne.
“The level of water was two feet higher than it had ever been in history, and while we did sustain some flooding…we were told that the fuel pumps couldn’t be on the roof with the generators, they had to be below-grade,” said Berne. What we need to now look at is where you can put those fuel pumps, and maybe the city will look as well; now, maybe this is a new circumstance for everyone.”
Throughout his tour last night, Sexton stressed the strong ties that he has seen amongst students, faculty, and employees at NYU. Likening it to the “surge in spirit” he saw in the days after 9/11, Sexton said he hopes this spirit will continue in the days to come and after the disaster is completely over, that it was one of the main reasons for the party tonight.
“I think how much better would things be if we could capture and maintain this spirit of appreciation for each other and our community. I hope that all this can have some positive effects,” said Sexton. ”So that’s the idea for the party; that for three hours we want the student’s to be able to have some fun, to come here and just take care of each other.”