Faculty Against the Sexton Plan held a fundraiser last night at the penthouse of the 21-story luxury Standard East Village hotel. Headlined by Susan Sarandon, André Balazs, and Padma Lakshmi (none of whom attended), the event was a show of solidarity against 2031, Sexton, the board, Bloomberg, bikers, and sitar-haters.
As always, Steinhardt professor and 9/11 conspiracy theorist Mark Crispin Miller led the event, shepherding the night through a motley band of speakers including Village preservationist Andrew Berman (“I think we all know that the implications for what happens here extend far beyond the boundaries of our neighborhood”), a grad student organizer (“Be weary and wary of the fake attempts at publicity and appeasement”), state assemblywoman Deborah Glick (“Mark said I should knock ‘em dead, but the people who need it aren’t here”), wide-eyed student activists (“The 2031 plan would be doing the opposite of what we want, because it would be raising tuition for us”), local personality Fran Lebowitz (“I basically don’t like NYU”), and failed mayoral candidate Sal Albanese (“A bunch of plutocrats are able to erode democracy, and I’ve seen that all around the city”).
Waiters walked around offering white wine and hors d’oeuvres like arancini (fancy cheeseballs), beet ravioli, corn dog lollipops, and mini beef sliders. Against a particularly vibrant sunset—one which justified FiDi’s tinted blues a million times over—faculty mingled with donors. The Standard penthouse balcony wrapped around, so guests could view Midtown or the Financial District.
Not many chose the Village.
“We have some actual students in the room!” Miller said. A contingent of the undergraduate Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) shuffled to the front. Four students from Gallatin, Liberal Studies, and CAS spoke haltingly to the crowd. They didn’t know they were supposed to prepare a speech.
“This year, one of our campaigns is to end student debt,” Samantha, a Liberal Studies freshman, said. “We want to freeze tuition. The 2031 plan would be doing the opposite of what we want, because it would be raising tuition for us—therefore creating more student debt. That’s why we’re here.”
We asked Samantha how much she knew about the FASP platform. “I just found out about it.” She didn’t know who Professor Miller was. “I think a big part of our plan to go about [freezing tuition] would be to save the Village.” We asked her if she saw any disconnect between the ritziness of the event and their financially-minded campaign. “That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’d have to analyze it. But for the time being, it seems pretty connected to what we’re fighting for—saving the money and putting it to something else.” The event did keep costs down in one way: hotel owner André Balazs donated the penthouse, hors d’oeuvres and prosecco table to show support. (He was not in attendance.)
Austin, an LSP sophomore, agreed. “I know a little bit—as much as I’ve learned from this event and our involvement with them. I think it’s a great cause.”
“This type of event is what causes change,” said Austin. “Change comes from influential people. I don’t think that the common man by himself could cause change. It’s people of influence that see what the common man wants to do. It’s not just about the common professor, but professors who have the clout to get things done.” The waiter offered us an arancini.
A poster depicting John Sexton as Nero fiddling around a fire overlooked the hors d’oeuvres table. The other poster was Martin Lipton in a cloak against Darth Vader, saying “Destroy the Debt Star.”
“Starbucks has to grow,” Miller said. “Universities don’t have to grow.”
Fidgety and prized, Alex, a grad student in History, argued that it “seems like Sexton is more interested in a top-down, corporate expansion model that doesn’t account for students, the faculty, or the community on whole.” He characterized the 2031 Plan, NYU’s trajectory, and Sexton’s broad vision for the university on whole as “a race to its own grave.”
The university argues that its Momentum Campaign, which promises to bring a billion dollars in financial aid packages, can help mitigate the cost. But Alex characterized the campaign as a “last-ditch legacy PR move” and the billion dollar financial aid promise as “paltry.” Miller agreed.
“You can tell that they know that the court of public opinion is against them,” said Berman. As the head of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Berman has been a vocal and bridge-burning critic of NYU. He spoke about the perils of student debt, but Berman’s struggle has, and will always be, his own neighborhood.
It was usually difficult to tell which of the speakers actually cared about student debt, and which were primarily neighborhood preservationists. Not always, though.
“I am not connected to NYU in any way,” started Fran Lebowitz. “I was not a student at NYU, I am not a teacher at NYU. I basically don’t like NYU. They’re prefacing everything they say about this by saying ‘of course we love NYU.’ I don’t.”
Lebowitz was also the only person we talked to who took issue with the luxury venue, which towered above the surrounding Village. “It’s like having a vegan dinner at a butcher shop.”
In her crackling speech, Lebowitz took aim at NYU students. “Frankly,” she said, “I look forward to the summer—mainly because the conversations I overhear on the street are less annoying. I walk around, in front of these kids, behind these kids, and I feel like saying ‘Nope. No, you’re not.’”
Lebowitz solution is to close up shop. “It’s not necessary by the way to have a university in the city. There are many more universities than there are New Yorks.” The faculty laughed nervously.
We asked Lebowitz for advice. “You’re buying something you can’t afford. You know that! Where is this money going?” Assaulting NYU’s suburban character, she told us, “you are paying New York City prices for a Westchester environment.”
Anything else? “Drop out.”
Across the room, a sitar played “This Land Is Your Land.”
[Photos by Hanna Armour]
[This post has been corrected to spell the name of New York luminary Fran Lebowitz correctly, we apologize for our millennial ignorance, via Kids These Days]