NYU students tuned in to Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” to watch their president, John Sexton, appear and discuss his new book on God and baseball. Well, it would be safer to assume that they tuned in to hear what he had to say concerning the no-confidence vote that would soon be decided against him and the 2031 school development plan that has stirred so much controversy. Colbert, upon hearing Sexton’s abstract description of his book’s concept, declared that he had no idea what Sexton had just said, and that perhaps us students would. No — we don’t. Rather, we’re more interested in what Sexton is planning on doing about the state of our school in the face of democracy crashing down on him. Perhaps to address the fact that NYU seems to function as an academic company rather than an academic university. But certainly not to talk about a book about baseball.
Granted, the show’s main aim is comedic, and we knew what we were in for when Sexton was involved in a joke concerning “The Bachelor,” but there seems to be very little public discussion by the man himself. Multiple NYU professors have certainly flocked to the curious conjectures of publications such as The Guardian and The New York Times to discuss their opposition. They have shown their discontent about how he ignores the system of faculty governance. But these confrontations have garnered nothing from our president, who had said little more than a statement praising his faculty.
Maybe there is little to discuss. The vote of no confidence is a democratic scowl. It does not decide his career, as the final authority on his position lies in the Board of Trustees, which has exclaimed support for him.
In fact, in terms of developing the university in the public eye, the president may be beyond reproach. In the 10 years of Sexton’s tenure, he has revolutionized the school and launched it with fervor into a position of incredible prestige. Fast Company Magazine named NYU as the number one Most Innovative Company in Education for its Abu Dhabi campus, and for the whole concept of a Global Network University with portal campuses across the globe. The university is beginning to rub shoulders with the likes of Ivy Leagues in academics, breaking the top 30 universities in the country. NYU was the number one dream school as ranked by the Princeton Review for four consecutive years. In fact, he is widely considered a visionary among his peers.
Yet, despite all these accolades, we cannot escape the clutches of the feeling that we are exactly that — an educational company. Perhaps he didn’t discuss 2031 because it’s the touchy territory of when a private university crosses the line between company and educational facility. All private universities are corporations in some sense, but some are just more ethical than others, and I wonder when our dream school will become exactly that — a dream. The global campus elevates the school, but on the backs of students’ fiscal security. We need more than hugs, President Sexton — we need a discussion.
Nikolas Reda-Castelao is a contributing columnist. Email him at email@example.com.