On March 15th, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted no confidence against John Sexton’s leadership. That same evening, Sexton brushed off the loss, citing support from other schools within the university; the Board of Trustees also passed a resolution backing up the president and his vision for the university.
But the American Association of University Professors at New York University (AAUP-NYU) disagrees with these sentiments. In a letter to the Board of Trustees, the organization writes:
Your statement of March 15th suggests that it is only the faculty of Arts and Science who have no confidence in President Sexton, and that this “sentiment” is outweighed by expressions of support from other schools, specifically Medicine, Dentistry, and Nursing. But so far, Arts and Science is the only school whose faculty has voted. We draw this distinction to your attention because your statement places the direct expression of institutional citizenship—the faculty vote—on a par with statements from administrators and proxy representatives. To clarify: the faculties in the schools of Medicine, Dentistry, and Nursing did not take a vote. At the School of Medicine, the voting was limited to the Faculty Council, despite efforts by both School of Medicine faculty and the AAUP to open the vote to the whole faculty. The AAUP cautioned the Faculty Council against limiting the vote, because it would be seen as a premature measure, preempting the franchise of the whole faculty. In addition to the vote of the SOM Faculty Council, the administrators from all three health-related schools (Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing) pledged their support for President Sexton. We believe that faculty, at every NYU school, have the right, and the responsibility, to conduct their own vote, unencumbered by influence from administrators, including department chairs.
As of now, only the faculty of College of Arts and Sciences took a vote of no confidence. Keeping the vote to tenured or tenure tracked full-time faculty excluded some members of the college’s teaching staff. However, an impressive 83% of eligible faculty did participate. But in the coming weeks, other faculties within the university may follow suit. The AAUP-NYU correctly indicates that support of varying administrations may not accurately represent that of their constituents.
In fact, the Executive Council of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Technical Staff at NYU (UCATS) decided to hold a vote of no confidence amongst its nearly 1,400 members, who work throughout the university. In a press release, the UCATS said:
The nearly 1,400 NYU staff represented by UCATS are experiencing stagnate wages, unmanageable healthcare costs and a deteriorating quality of work life. The enrichment of those that have, at the cost of those that have less, has been a hallmark of President Sexton’s leadership. The resources required to proceed with the NYU 2031 expansion portends three decades of disinvestment in faculty and support staff who deliver the education for which NYU students pay so dearly.
Sexton hasn’t taken all the heat; the AAUP-NYU also dug into the actions of the Board of Trustees.
You, the Trustees, comprise the third pillar of shared governance, and so we call upon you to exercise your responsibility to help restore faculty confidence in the administrative pillar of NYU. An honest dialogue between faculty and trustees is long overdue–no such institutional channel currently exists–and the current crisis of trust demands it.
Our hope is to extend this culture of transparency to the working of the Board as well. Faculty are uninformed as to how the trustees perform their duties, when they meet, how they are selected, or what Board records can be accessed. Likewise, the Board has not taken advantage of the insights and expertise of the faculty. Sharing on both sides would benefit the university as a whole.
The strained relationships between Sexton, the Board of Trustees, and the entirety of university faculty did not neatly resolve over spring break. Previously, the AAUP-NYU published “Profile for a 21st Century Presidency at NYU,” which laid out how a NYU president can protect the university’s goals, the faculty’s rights and the student’s finances. But in the closing words of their letter, the AAUP-NYU suggested a major, preliminary step for healing:
We call on you to commit to a joint Faculty-Trustee inquiry (involving FAS senators and AAUP representatives) into the many factors that led to the loss of confidence. The next president of NYU should not be burdened with the legacy of a divided and demoralized faculty body. As for President Sexton, we believe he should step down in the interests of the institution. The longer he stays in office, the more the malaise among faculty is likely to linger and spread.