FAQ: Vote of No Confidence

Nicole Brown, News Editor

File photo by Rachel Kaplan/WSN


Tensions in university politics in the form of faculty’s votes of no confidence made headlines way beyond WSN’s homepage last semester. Here’s the breakdown of what you need to know about the latest in the biggest story in university politics:

What is a vote of no confidence? 

The votes of no confidence are symbolic. They make a statement about the tenured faculty opinion, but passing them can not force NYU President John Sexton to resign. The Board of Trustees, which has the ultimate power to choose the president of the university, showed continuous support for Sexton after each of these votes.

What are the issues?

+ Shared Governance

Some NYU faculty believe that they do not have adequate representation in university government. The Faculty Senators Council has made efforts to increase faculty involvement in the university decision making since May 2011, when they drafted and approved resolutions to increase shared governance. The university responded agreeing to work with the FSC and consider their suggestions, but argued that the FSC does not have the right to pass such resolutions based on the university bylaws.

+ Expansion plans

NYU 2031 is NYU’s plan to expand the Washington Square campus by 2.5 million square feet by the university’s bicentennial in 2031. Greenwich village residents say it encroaches on the character and green space of the village. Meanwhile, NYU spokesman John Beckman has repeatedly said NYU needs to expand because it has one of the lowest student to area ratio compared to universities such as Columbia University.

Meanwhile, some faculty see Sexton’s plan to  expand NYU’s degree-granting presence abroad as another expensive venture, while university officials believe it will help raise the university’s prestige, with the opening of NYU Shanghai this fall and NYU Abu Dhabi preparing for its transition to Saadiyat Island in 2014.

+ Mortgages program

As media scrutiny increased on NYU, media outlets reported that hundreds mortgages beginning with loans of several hundred thousand dollars were forgiven for Jacob Lew, a former NYU Vice President of Operations who became President Obama’s treasury secretary this year. The university also extended multimillion-dollar loans for vacation homes to some administration and professors.

Who is FASP? 

One of the most vocal faculty groups against the Sexton administration is the Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, which comprises more than 400 faculty members who originally formed in opposition to NYU 2031. FASP members have written letters against NYU 2031 in The New York Times. On July 16, the group wrote an open letter requesting Board of Trustee Chairman Martin Lipton’s resignation, as they felt their concerns and lack of confidence in Sexton had been ignored.

How did the university react? 

University Provost David McLaughlin took to the the University’s public affairs blog to refute the claims, pointing to the rise in incoming student SAT scores from 2002 to 2013, as well as a 12 percent increase in tenured faculty from 2002 to 2012.

What has happened most recently? 

On Aug. 14, the Special Committee of the NYU Board of Trustees, which was created after the first no-confidence vote, sent an email to the entire NYU community addressing the issues the faculty voiced last spring.

“Our reaction is that we heard you, and we are taking steps to improve faculty and other constituents’ participation in the governance of the university,” Lipton said.

The email also said that Sexton will not renew his contract past 2016. Beckman explained that in 2009, the Board of Trustees announced the renewal of Sexton’s contract to at least 2016.

“It is important to remember that the email sent [on Aug.14] was not intended as an announcement of when John would retire,” Beckman said.

The university will also discontinue vacation home loans program for administration and faculty members.

Is the faculty satisfied? 

Professor of social studies education Robert Cohen expressed disappointment that the email ignores the no-confidence votes and that the board does not plan to expedite Sexton’s presidential term at the university.

“What kind of Board of Trustees can be ‘extremely satisfied with the direction and leadership of the University’ when five schools’ faculty have voted no confidence in the president?” Cohen said, quoting the special committee’s email.

Cohen added that there are positives of the message, including the creation of the Joint Committee, which will allow direct faculty and student involvement in the selection of the next president, as well as the elimination of the vacation homes loan program.

How does this affect students?

“The Board of Trustees and the administration have determined that this will not in any way interfere with the students’ education and the students’ enjoyment of their time at NYU,” Lipton said.

To read administration and faculty reactions to the fall out of the loans program and other no confidence fallout, see No confidence recap: administration moves to resolve tensions with faculty.

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 25 print edition. Nicole Brown is a news editor. Email her at [email protected]