The party was already poppin’ at 1:30. A microphone screeched on in the Bobst lobby. The eighth-floor bookshelves vibrated to the beat of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” Dazed alumni trickled through LaGuardia Place buffeted by the Top 40 hits pumping from a stack of speakers resting against Bobst’s outer wall. John Sexton was there.
It was Alumni Day. It was Parents’ Day. It was Saturday afternoon: one essay, two days, and 400 pages of reading before my midterm schedule resumed.
I’d entered Bobst just as workers cordoned off the lobby and arranged decorative gourds on long buffet tables. Wary of the growing commotion, I fled to the eighth floor. But I discovered just how well sound traveled from NYU’s state-of-the-art speakers on LaGuardia, through walls, and into otherwise-silent study rooms, where the sick dubstep beatz produced a distinct “bzzt-bzzt-bzzt” noise from books vibrating on their shelves.
I moved to the east side of the floor, away from LaGuardia. Moments later, the first rumblings of “check, 1, 2, check, check” began from speakers—inside Bobst itself.
My response was, admittedly, a little aggressive:
.@nyuniversity THIS IS A LIBRARY, TURN OFF THE MEGAPHONE, YOU SADISTIC PEOPLE, HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY THINK THAT WAS OKAY
— Kelly Weill (@KELLYWEILL) October 19, 2013
But I wasn’t the only student annoyed. “The noise was really disruptive,” Maddy Rauch (LSP 16) said. “I go to Bobst because I need to be in a really quiet environment to study certain things. I could hear music blasting from outside… And I could hear John Sexton speaking from the seventh floor.”
Sexton was addressing a crowd of parents and new students from a generously amplified podium in the lobby. While Sexton spoke, families were encouraged to talk, mingle, and clamber over each other as they helped themselves from a buffet of pungent finger-foods.
This kind of reception — catered food, a speech from the president — would have been standard fare for Parents’ Day, except for the unfortunate decision to host it in a library during the peak of midterms. So why did NYU choose to throw a party in its most-disruptable building? According to an NYU employee working the event, Bobst is “a great space to hold an event.”
“This is such a popular space where students are studying,” said the employee who later asked to remain anonymous. “They’re doing group projects in the various student lounges, they’re studying away, reading books and all that,” he said of the legions of students actively grinding their teeth against the noise resonating from the lobby.
David A. Vogelsang, Executive Director of the Student Resource Center, who oversaw the event offered a different explanation. “We have limited space, where else will we have it?” he said, dismissing Kimmel and its 5950-square-foot, 400-person-seating-capacity upper floor as “not large enough.” The Coles and Skirball Centers were also, apparently, inadequate for the splendor of Parents’ Day.
“I agree it’s a disruption,” Vogelsang conceded, “but we’ll keep it as minimal as possible.”
Not every employee cared about minimizing disruption, though. While Parents’ Day thundered on in the lobby, the neighboring LaGuardia Place had been transformed into “Alumni Alley” for Alumni Day. Alumni Alley was responsible for the speakers blasting pop hits into Bobst’s upper floors. Alumni Alley was responsible for DJ Scotty Z.
“Listen, I was hired to come work today, so I don’t really know about playing music next to the library,” DJ Scotty Z, who is neither an NYU alumni nor a current student, said as he looked up from the laptop where he was queuing the next deafening series of pop tracks. “The way I look at it is it’s Saturday, study on Monday.”
Is Bobst a weekend event venue, then? Is Bobst a student resource except when the university needs it for show?
“It’s one of the iconic spots in NYU,” the anonymous Parents’ Day employee said. “We also have the new renovations [suicide prevention screens] that were finished within the past year, so we’re showcasing that.”
All idealism aside, private universities are commercial ventures. NYU, whose 2010 graduating class owes more in student loans than any other graduating class, is no exception. NYU has wealthy alumni and skeptical parents to woo, for donations and tuition, respectively. A private university will always be, in part, a production. I understand this; I am okay with this.
But at what point does production value trump student performance? Who does NYU value more: the wealthy potential donors dancing to Katy Perry in Alumni Alley, or me, the current student spending her Saturdays in Bobst so she can remain eligible for what remains of her financial aid? The generous graduate, or the current undergrad who will likely never donate a penny because what can I actually do with a B.A. in English?
I caught up with John Sexton as parents were filtering from the lobby. Workers were removing the buffet tables, but house music was still bumping from LaGuardia. He was explaining his vision for the Global Network University to an older couple with no children. He was holding two bottles of Diet Pepsi until a nearby assistant relieved him of one.
After the couple left, I asked him about the choice of location. Wasn’t using Bobst disruptive during midterms?
“Well I think it’s one day, and we don’t have another venue,” he said. “It’s important for our agenda of connecting the alumni so they have job opportunities for our students, they help us with the Momentum Campaign, and that we welcome our parents back [...] until we finish our building plan on the superblocks we’ll have to make do with the space we have.”
Building on the superblocks. So moving this event out of Bobst is contingent on developments from the inadaquately funded NYU 2031 Plan?
“Well the reason behind the plan to build, for example, on the Coles site is because we’re cramped for space and this just another example of it,” Sexton said.
A neat example for donors who could contribute the money NYU desperately needs if this expansion is to occur; but a less-satisfying example for students just trying to use the library.
[Photos by author]