The NYU School of Law Votes Confidence in John Sexton

A vote of confidence for John Sexton passed in a closed NYU School of Law faculty meeting yesterday. With 59 yeas, two nays and three abstentions the following resolution won by a landslide:

“The faculty of the NYU School of Law expresses its support for John Sexton’s vision of NYU as one of the world’s great universities and expresses its continuing confidence in his leadership.”*

“I am very moved that the faculty colleagues who know me most intimately have invested the time and the energy to study the issues,” said John Sexton, “and — after deliberation and discussion — have expressed their continuing support of what we are doing.”

Less than a month ago, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) voted no confidence against the university president. Beforehand, the School of Medicine Faculty Council passed a resolution supporting the president during FAS’s vote. Administrative and academic leadership of the College of Nursing and the College of Dentistry followed suit. These previous backings represent a win for Sexton, but do not inherently voice the opinions of these schools’ entire faculties. Faculty members select departmental and school representatives to compose the faculty council at the School of Medicine. These representatives pledged support, but the faculty as whole has yet to take a vote of confidence or no confidence like the faculty of Law and CAS.

Sexton defended his vision during Tuesday’s town hall meeting, where undergraduate and graduate students posed questions in an open forum. Specifically, his argument reiterated the continued support of Law faculty.

“Now the law school faculty, which knows me best – they’ve said ‘listen we’re not standing idly by anymore.’ So they put out a report last week and apparently they’re having a vote tomorrow.”

After joining the law school in 1981, Sexton ascended to Dean in just seven years, only leaving this post in 2001 for the job of university president.

“They know me, that’s highly reliable evidence I would say, I was their parish priest for 14 years.”

Released on March 25th, the “Report of the Faculty of Law’s Senators in Support of a Vote of Confidence in NYU President John Sexton,” circulated among the school’s faculty. The three authors, Brookes Billman, James Jacobs, and William Nelson, represent the School of Law in the Faculty Senators Council. Opening by chastising the FAS’s actions, the report then lists Sexton’s redeeming qualities and accomplishments.

“In this ambition, he has made enormous progress. In its recently released global rankings, The Times Higher Education Magazine pointed out NYU’s impressive rise in the world rankings, from 52nd to 29th in three years. Just this year, we have seen a 12% increase in applications for freshman admission in this year, the sixth straight year of record applications. The College Board reports that NYU is at the very top of “the most-searched-for universities” by prospective American students and foreign students as well. The academic qualifications of entering freshmen during John’s presidency have steadily increased as have the retention and graduation rates. Financial aid has increased tremendously. During John’s presidency, the University successfully completed a $3 billion fundraising campaign, at the time the largest university campaign in American history, essentially $1 million per day. The University’s finances, which were troubled when John took office, have improved dramatically. He and Executive Vice President Jack Lew cut $70 million from the operating budget and eliminated the University’s structural deficit. They successfully “de-merged” the NYU Medical Center from Mt. Sinai.”

Critics of Sexton did not fair as well. The report attacked three arguments used against Sexton: the university’s globalization, NYU 2031, and shared governance. By breaking down each of these into counterarguments, the report enlightened why some faculty members choose to stand by Sexton’s side. Many see his vision as stemming from departmental and student needs. Portions of the report read:

“The emergence of NYU as a leading global academic brand will be very beneficial to the Law School. It will help us with the recruitment of students, particularly to our LL.M. programs, and of faculty with strong global interests.”

“The pressure for more and better space does not emanate from the University Administration, but from the academic departments and colleges, which submit their space needs to the Provost’s office, where they are carefully vetted by a committee.”

“Matters that are classically governed by faculty in American universities remain governed by faculty at NYU. What seems to be at issue principally is faculty control over the Global Network University and NYU 2031. In fact, John has been moving steadily and significantly to include the faculty in University decision making.”

But Sexton’s methods to recruiting faculty also came under fire recently. For instance, the university granted a $1.4 million home loan to Jack Lew. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley questioned NYU’s right to tax exemption when such loans exist. These loans provide incentives for top educators to join the NYU faculty, according to the report.

“Those loans have performed well for the University, yielding a better return over the last several years than returns earned by other endowment investments. Moreover, we note that these compensation and loan features have to be approved by the Board of Trustees. John’s own salary is in line with university presidents at peer institutions.”

Controversy surrounding Sexton’s leadership carries on. In time, faculties of others schools may determine their own stances on John Sexton’s leadership.

*April 5, 2013: Resolution corrected to that voted on by the Law faculty. Ever think we’re missing something in a story? Email us at nyulocaledito [at] gmail [dot] com.

Follow all of NYU Local’s Vote of No Confidence coverage here.

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  1. F-M Arouet says

    The Law School expressed confidence (I guess one expected at least someone to do so, eventually) in a besieged university president who used to be your own Law School Dean for 14 years? Imagine. What a surprise. And this despite the fact that our Law School has slipped down to 6th in the latest US News & World Report overall rankings under Sexton’s presidential watch. As the saying goes, blood really is thicker than water.