Professors Decide Whether To Hold No Confidence Vote Against President Sexton

Arts & Sciences professors are meeting today to decide whether to hold NYU’s first-ever vote of no confidence against President John Sexton. The meeting comes after years of vocal resistance to NYU 2031, or what the opposition calls the Sexton Plan. Currently thirty-eight different departments have passed resolutions against 2031, including twenty-two within Arts & Sciences.

No confidence is a nonbinding resolution that functions symbolically. If it passes, President Sexton will have no obligation to step down. But it would be the latest in a long string of protest against Sexton’s expansionist leadership, which many have criticized as detrimental to academic relationships and NYU’s financial balance. Professors who oppose the plan, calling themselves Faculty Against The Sexton Plan (FASP), have sued the government, protested in the park, got celebrities to voice their opposition, published a book called While We Were Sleeping: NYU and the Destruction of New York, and held a benefit concert. Now, the vote of no confidence is the latest attempt to halt the 2031 plan.

By 2031, NYU plans to add 6 million square feet to its campus, in parcels spread out around Manhattan, Brooklyn, and possibly Governor’s Island. Of that, about 1.9 million square feet of expansion will be penciled into an area called the ‘superblocks’ that cuts right through faculty housing. It was slimmed down this summer to three high-rises and one four-story building, plus a swath of below-ground development, estimated at a 26% reduction from the original plan. The university states the expansion is necessary to sustain growth, pointing out in President Sexton’s letter that current space allotment per student is half of Columbia’s and a quarter of Harvard’s.

“Certainly there are those who do not agree with every move the University made,” says NYU spokesman John Beckman, and “we know that we have to be sensitive to how these changes affect faculty and other constituencies and that faculty dialogue and engagement are necessary for the healthy functioning of the university.” The Board of Trustees supports President Sexton, issuing a statement praising a “record of great accomplishment.” Martin Lipton, the chairman of the board, calls Sexton “widely and rightly acknowledged as an international leader in higher education, and he — and the strategic direction he has set for the university — enjoys the support of the board.” This direction includes the 2031 plan, as well as the global network approach that has garnered NYU global reach and acclaim, while also placing a burden on student debt.

A large majority of the faculty* has long opposed such a plan, which cuts right through the heart of the faculty residences of Washington Square Village. Even the Stern School of Business and the Economics department passed resolutions with overwhelming numbers. Moreover, Sexton’s management has been criticized by some faculty members as overreaching and unavailable, placing more weight on the global network infrastructure than on local relationships.

Professors will meet in Kimmel to vote anonymously on the following statement: “The Faculty of Arts and Sciences has no confidence in John Sexton’s leadership.” Faculty may either approve, oppose, or abstain. If the measure passes, the vote of no confidence will be held next week.

*This line was revised to reflect the fact that some faculty, like those listed here, are advocates of the expansion plan.

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  1. Adam Becker says

    Thanks for this piece. There are actually many other reasons why faculty are unhappy with John Sexton’s leadership. 2031 is a good example, but I think it is overemphasized in this piece. For years many faculty have been happy with Sexton’s style of governance, which ignores actual institutions and structures within the university by which faculty can participate in some of the important decision making of the university. Furthermore, the so-called Global Network University, or GNU as documents refer to it, that Sexton has developed seems to some to be a bureaucratic mess, intellectually shoddy, and run upon the whim of the administration. Sexton’s vision for NYU entails students being shipped all over the planet just long enough to catch dinner and theater, but never to any place long enough to actually engage with the place. This is a businessman’s notion of the global and it is the inverse of the patient, quiet residence needed in any place in order to actually study. I need not add that NYU’s students have become some of the most indebted in the nation upon graduation. The vote, if it does take place, is not necessarily next week. That will also be decided upon next week.

  2. David Blair says

    As an alumni of NYU that graduated with nearly $30K in student loans, I cannot understand why future students should have to pay significantly higher tuition for NYU 2031. This plan could have been completed without billions of dollars of new buildings. I also question why NYU needs to grow any larger. It is already one of the largest private universities in the United States.

  3. Tom Paulie says

    It sounds like a group of faculty members are upset their subsidized faculty housing will be lost. boo-friggin-hoo

  4. Dan Friedlander says

    Something they may wish to examine at one of their meetings, is the apparent involvement of NYU officials in the astonishing criminal prosecution of the author of a satirical email hoax in which the then-chairman of the Jewish Studies department (who has since resigned from his NYU professorship) was portrayed as accusing himself of plagiarism. For details, see:

  5. says

    “Of that, about 1.9 million square feet of expansion will be penciled into an area called the ‘superblocks’ that cuts right through faculty housing.”

    Lemme guess, those who live in faculty housing are opposed to the plan, and those who do not are for the plan.

  6. Therese Watson says

    Tom Paulie,

    Village residents-not just NYU faculty- are “upset”. I live in the neighborhood and have to endure off hours construction noise from their unpermitted projects. This noise pollution starts as early as 5 am and has gone until well past midnight. Upset? I’m infuriated by NYU’s lack of concern for their neighbors and the neighborhood that has hosted the Purple Monster.

    As for NYU’s Global Network University concept; google NYU, Human Rights Watch. Hey Sexton, when is NYU’s Pyongyang campus opening?

  7. Ernesto G says

    Nope. Wrong guess, Mr. Burdick. In fact, having read your parroting of the same tired NIMBY argument time and again on this site, I would suggest that you stop guessing and actually begin doing some research (and thinking, listening and questioning) of your own. That is, thinking and listening that isn’t based exclusively on NYU administration messaging. I’m sure you’re better and smarter than that.

    Faculty concerns (and, in many cases, outrage) surrounding Pres. Sexton and his administration — concerns which I, as a member of the Faculty of Arts and Science very much share and that motivated my vote at Thursday’s assembly, successfully empowering our Senators to convene an actual vote this coming March — are hardly based solely on NYU 2031. And even if they were, 60% of NYU faculty do not even live on the two Superblocks in question. And I think you know this, Britton. NYU 2031 may very well be the most obvious (i.e., most aggressive) manifestation of the unilateral, tone-deaf way that this top-down administration operates. It may also have been something of a final straw for the faculty, to say nothing of our surrounding community. (Those tree-hugging “hippies,” Steve R., that actually own and run all the small businesses here in Greenwich Village, which cater to both residents and NYU students and staff. And all the elderly residents and young families alike that make this neighborhood the vibrant and distinctive place that it is … a proud, historic neighborhood which attracted NYU faculty and students to come here in the first place.) What is at the core of faculty protest, Britton, is a pandemic pattern of mistakes, incompetent actions and, yes, even abuses that have become absolutely impossible for the faculty to ignore any longer. This is the case whether Pres. Sexton’s ill-conceived decisions touch on matters of shared faculty governance (such as the admin’s re-writing of the Faculty Handbook, our sole “constitution” of sorts, without the approval of the Faculty Senate Council, our own elected body, for the first time in NYU’s history); the tail-wagging-the-dog phenomenon that is the Global Network University, which has as much if not more to do with branding than a thoughtfully-conceived academic plan; a future vision of teaching that is automated, outsourced or both; rising tuition ($58,000 per year for tuition, room and board and climbing) and exploding student debt (the worst of any university in the entire nation); the president’s stratospheric salary (the highest presidential base salary in the nation), at a time of faculty salary freezes and, worse, the aforementioned annual spikes in tuition (3.8% in this academic year alone); ballooning admission (35% admission rate, compared to Columbia’s 10%) to pay for this administration’s out-of-control spending both here and abroad at our two just-opened “portals” (Abu Dhabi and Shanghai) and our eleven “nodes” (other abroad sites, too many to cite); inadequate infrastructure and mismanagement of existing assets as revealed by Sandy, both at our Medical Center and here, closer to the Square; the shuttering of Tisch Asia, preceded by the firing of its Dean; the countless lawsuits currently facing the administration, one can go and on. And so, did the NYU 2031 expansion plan spark a great deal of opposition among the faculty? Absolutely. Twenty-eight of about 34 departments in the College of Arts and Science alone — and 39 departments and programs overall, including the Stern School of Business (by a 52-3 vote) — passed resolutions in the last several months against the plan, citing its fiscal recklessness among many other concerns, ranging from faculty recruitment to out-of-control student debt. Our endowment, after all, is $2.5 billion, not Harvard’s $32 billion. And our current debt actually exceeds our entire endowment. And you’re spinning the same old NIMBY line? Come on.

    When all of the troubling things I have just mentioned are connected to student debt and the treatment of (and reliance on) 1. non-tenure-track faculty, 2. faculty and staff in the Global Network University, and 3. grad workers on the (looming) issue of unionization, it becomes even more apparent that the Sexton administration has deeply damaged the NYU community. I, for one, believe that the time has certainly come for new, more responsive and more responsible leadership here at the Square. Yesterday, my fellow faculty also made their own voices heard, loud and clear.