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.