This week marks the first vote of no confidence ever undertaken against an NYU President. However, many are dismissing the vote’s significance simply because it carries no explicit consequences. But there will certainly be consequences of some sort, and as students it is our responsibility to be aware of how this vote may affect NYU’s future.
In a traditional vote of no confidence, a legislative body declares by majority vote that they have no confidence in the government. With certain votes of no confidence, the government is then required to resign.
If the faculty of the College of Arts and Science, who convened the first day of their five-day vote yesterday, vote no confidence on NYU President John Sexton, this does not mean he has to resign — and it’s highly unlikely that he will. But the vote will send an important message.
The NYU chapter of the American Association of University Professors has drawn up a Bill of Rights, essentially a list of grievances regarding Sexton’s leadership — or lack thereof, depending on whom you ask.The most contentious areas for professors are the NYU 2031 expansion plan, the policies of the NYU Abu Dhabi campus and the administration’s ignorance of professors’ opinions and needs.
In a survey taken last year, two-thirds of professors polled said they opposed the 2031 plan. They disagree with various parts of the plan, but most fundamentally many of them disagree with Sexton’s reasoning for it, saying that he is exaggerating the need for six million square feet of new facilities in New York.
Regarding NYUAD’s campus, professors have cited concerns about human rights violations of migrant workers in the region. The plan for the campus came from a personal connection between Sexton and the emir of Dubai, which has caused some suspicion. The professors are especially taking issue with the fact that their departments are frequently expected to take on work at global sites without regard for how it will affect their work here at the Washington Square campus.
The vote is not just an expression of dissatisfaction with Sexton but also dissatisfaction with the Board of Trustees. The AAUP Bill of Rights stipulates “the right and obligation of faculty to be represented on the Board of Trustees.” Currently, there are no professors on the board except Sexton himself, who teaches a Gallatin class on God and baseball every year. Instead,the board is made up of wealthy business leaders, including Daniel Straus, who is currently under indictment by the National Labor Relations Board for violating workers’ rights.
I’ve only cited a few major issues that may cause the faculty to vote no confidence on Sexton, but there are a myriad of others outlined in their Bill of Rights. All of these issues affect us as students as much as they affect our professors.It is true that this vote will not cause Sexton to lose his job. But it is far from irrelevant and has already had consequences, including an analysis of Sexton’s leadership in The New York Times, bringing the issues he tries to downplay into the spotlight.
The Times article pointed out that past votes of no confidence for university presidents have actually given more power to the presidents in question because the boards rally around them. Our Board of Trustees has been vocally supportive of Sexton in the weeks leading up to the vote — not surprising, since the Board’s main mission is to raise money, and whatever his other flaws, Sexton is very good at that.
So why should you care about the vote of no confidence? Because it’s making people outside our community notice that not everyone is happy with the man who is ultimately responsible for every policy that impacts our lives at school because it will bring to your attention issues that might make you not so happy with him either, because this university is not a democracy, but the faculty are taking their best shot at making it one. Whether you agree with their grievances or not, we should be proud of our professors who are standing up to their boss for their rights and ours.
A version of this article was published in the Tuesday, March 12 print edition. Jess Littman is a staff columnist. Email her at email@example.com.
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