Sexton Faces The Fire (Sort Of) At Latest Town Hall

The Student Senators Council hosted John Sexton’s second and final town hall of the semester in Kimmel yesterday afternoon, the first to allow students to pose questions directly to Sexton at the microphone or via Twitter rather than being filtered through a fishbowl. The new system led students to ask more substantial questions than at Sexton’s uneventful first town hall this year, even if Sexton’s answers were a bit dismissive at times.

The evening’s most confrontational question came from CAS senior Ben Miller, who brought up “some of the financial decisions made by the university in the last ten years or so, looking at millions of dollars in bonuses,” and its association to the university ‘s inability to give sufficient financial aid. Given that students are being forced out because of high tuition costs, Miller said, “it’s hard to make sense of how those bonuses were the right way to spend that money.”

Sexton urged Miller to “get the facts” and “read a little more,” and reminded him that “loans are not expenditures.” However, what was really in question were the $12 million of those loans that were forgiven, which surely count as expenditures. Sexton then emphasized that the $10-15 million total spent in the form of forgiven loans has to be kept in the context of an $84 billion budget over twelve years, as if $10-15 million were pocket change. He repeated the administration’s talking point that these forgiven loans (read: bonuses), specifically Jack Lew’s, are for recruitment and retention purposes: “We are very proud of the quality of student we attract, and it is important to us to make available to them the finest education they can get, which means the finest faculty they can get, which means we are in competition for the best talent in the world.” He finished by encouraging students who have issues with the university’s financial policies to get in touch with their student representatives, who can provide accurate information on the subject.

The president of NYU’s Native American and Indigenous Students’ Group, Genesis Tuyuc, and the club’s secretary, Maggie Rice, then asked Sexton about recruitment of Native students and the possibility of a Native Studies program at NYU. Regarding the former, Sexton agreed Native representation at NYU was not what it should be, and encouraged the group to email him with any ideas they might have to correct this. But the latter idea of a Native Studies program would have to occur on the college level, not a university level, Sexton reminded them, and would require demonstrated student interest. If the instant buzz in the room was anything to judge by, Tuyuc and Rice won’t have a hard time finding students interested in such a program — and their group’s list of courses related to Native subjects shows the academic interest is already there.

The need for stronger ties between NYU-Poly in Brooklyn, which will officially become NYU’s engineering school in January, and the campus in Manhattan also came up, with the cost of transportation and relative social isolation keeping the campuses apart. Sexton encouraged students to take the subway both ways to experience NYU’s two campuses, but pointed out that a bus route was in the works and the campuses’ sports teams would merge for the next academic year.

When asked how to address students who view the Global Network University as a “money pit,” Sexton said that NYU’s portal and study abroad sites are run for academic purposes, but they happen to also be economically advantageous and are in no way a drain on New York. He did not address the flip side of that “money pit,” the idea that abroad students may feel they are spending the same amount of money for fewer resources than students in New York. Sexton also lifted up NYU Abu Dhabi as the ideal financial aid situation, with the Emirati government giving a full ride to any student regardless of national origin, while not addressing the possible limits that financial arrangement puts on academic freedom.

Among other topics of conversation were the Student Labor Action Movement’s request for an updated code of conduct, NYU’s online coursework, the search for a new Steinhardt dean, and inadequate financial aid for graduate students. A member of the Student Senators Council also asked Sexton to discuss the upcoming Momentum Campaign and its ongoing scholarship programs, the Finish Line Grant and the Global Pathways Program.

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