Sexton sits down with WSN

Felipe De La Hoz/WSN

On a Friday morning around 10:30 a.m., I attended a funeral with NYU President John Sexton.

Sexton and I had previously agreed to sit down in his office for an interview on the same Friday. It was not until the day before that I found out I would be going to the funeral for one of Sexton’s friends instead.

The interview began in his office on the 12th floor of Bobst Library and continued in a Public Safety van, which drove us to and from the funeral home on Madison Avenue and 81st Street.

As we rode in the van with Big Mike, the Public Safety officer who typically drives Sexton, we had a conversation about some of NYU’s most discussed issues.


“A huge change is happening in higher education,” Sexton said. “We’re going through a process of defining how decision-making happens at a university.”

Sexton recognized that NYU and other universities across the country are struggling with this change. This past year, Sexton, who will serve as president until 2016, has become a polarizing figure, facing varying levels of discontent from both faculty and students.

Faculty representation, student financial aid, expansion, the quality of education across the Global Network University, labor rights and student wellness are among the points of contention.

Sexton said while he is committed to ensuring that everyone in the university has a voice, he has learned that not everyone can be pleased at a diverse institution and not all suggestions can become realities.

He said the university is working to establish better ways for members of the NYU community to express their views, citing the recent University Senate decision to give contract faculty representation as an example of progress in this area.

Sexton extended this sentiment into the discussion about the Wellness Center. He said since he has been president, the university has greatly invested itself in student wellness and is willing to put more resources where they are needed.

“We will never be inclined to compromise in this area,” he said. “To the extent that anyone feels that we’re under resourced in any part of the system … I would urge them to get their ideas to the folks who run the Wellness Center.”

A major issue Sexton sees in higher education is the growing gap between students who can afford full tuition and those who receive full scholarships. The challenge NYU and many other schools are facing is not leaving out the students in the middle.

“In New York, obviously we’re going to do as much as we can to fill as much of that gap as we can, but it’s a huge effort,” Sexton said. “That’s what the Momentum Campaign’s about.”

In addition to this $1 billion fundraising effort, Sexton said NYU can reduce the gap slightly by providing more full scholarships to NYU Abu Dhabi or NYU Shanghai for students who may not be able to afford to attend NYU New York.

“Since those are relatively small schools, that doesn’t do as much as we would like to solve the issue,” he said.

Sexton recognized that NYUAD and NYUSH’s more generous financial aid does not change the reality that many students have to work two, or even three, jobs to study at NYU, and others have to transfer or drop out because of the price of attendance.

“That is a deep sorrow to me, but it’s a choice that I know some students have to make, and we’ll do all we can to minimize the number of those students,” Sexton said.

However, Sexton said the university allots as much money as it can to financial aid but that there are other expenses to consider.

“As important as financial aid is, it cannot be the only priority because the number one priority has to be providing our students with the highest quality education that we can,” Sexton said.

Part of providing the highest quality education is expansion, Sexton explained. NYU’s expansion includes global expansion, the NYU 2031 plan, the expansion of NYU Langone Medical Center and the expansion into Brooklyn. Sexton said the university’s projects benefit the NYU community and will ultimately bring in money for the university. He admitted that if money were not going toward the construction on the Coles Sports Center site, for example, it would go toward another element of the budget, such as financial aid. Yet he maintained that this is not practical for the university right now.

“It wouldn’t be prudent management, and the trustees have said to us … we want to see that you’re spending a certain amount each year on the capital improvement and the addition of necessary space for programming,” he said.

Another controversial topic has been the labor issues in the United Arab Emirates, where NYU has recently built a new campus for NYUAD.

In the past few months, questions of whether NYU is meeting appropriate labor standards for the workers on Saadiyat Island have been raised. Sexton said the university is committed to the Statement of Labor Values listed on the NYUAD website.

“This does not mean that we never encounter any issues, but it does mean we have made a commitment, which we and our partners have fulfilled, to actively seek out areas where our standards may not have been met, and then to work quickly to get them resolved,” he said.

NYUAD, as well as NYUSH, has also received attention recently about academic freedom and freedom of expression. Sexton, who teaches at NYUAD and has begun teaching at NYUSH, said he knows there are flaws in both countries’ values. However, he said New York also has flaws and that should not change the education students receive at each of the sites.

“I don’t teach the same way in my classes in Abu Dhabi or Shanghai because I have different students … but I don’t teach differently because I’m in Abu Dhabi or because I’m in Shanghai,” Sexton said.

As the face of NYU, Sexton must make decisions that affect every aspect of the university. But he admitted that his true passion in life is teaching. He has always made teaching a priority as he has moved up the administrative ranks.

“The professional position I was put on Earth to be is a teacher,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the next chapter of my life where I’ll be able to [do] that which I enjoy most, which is being in the classroom, in the world of thought with students.”

The Public Safety van was once again pulling up to Bobst as our conversation came to a close. Sexton got off, and I was driven back to my room.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, May 1 print edition. Nicole Brown is editor-in-chief. Email her at [email protected]



  1. With either the willfully blind approval or the willful ignorance of the judiciary the right has killed & stolen several of my pets and routinely shoots energy weaponry at me and my pets. Recent harm to animals include: two kittens from a pregnant stray i took in were killed a few months ago. The remaining two, just 3 months old, shake their head as government operatives shoot them with energy weaponry. They shot the eye out or removed the eye of a large really good natured stray at the port, hobbled another cat at the port, shooting it with energy weaponry, and for years routinely killed and left dead animals in my path. A few years ago one of them threatened ‘we’ll just kill a cat every so often’, in so many words. This has continued despite my calls to the police, the FBI, Congress, and my petitions in court. In the usual case, it appears that the right goes to a judicial crony for a ruling permitting them to harm animals to retaliate against me for my free speech. The federal government, the right wing in particular, interfered with my personal life and economic options for 3 decades, so their solution to my noting it is to kill animals. Makes perfect sense right? It does if you’re a sociopathic criminal, criminally stupid, and hawkish. Invariably their lies are exposed and the wrongfulness of the harm is clear to everyone, though not until the animals have been maimed or killed. There is really only one solution, and that’s to disempower them politically and to impeach them.

    If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth, right? the Democrats’ great accomplishment is producing the political equivalent of a Rodney King video, clearly demonstrating the lies of the right, the right Hilary Clinton correctly identified as a vast conspiracy. Confirm by examining Central District of California Cases, 01-4340, 03-9097, 08-5515, 10-5193, US Tax Court 12000-07L –though I think you want to view my US Tax Court Appeal to the 9th Circuit for a good account of their day to day assaults, a few month time slice indicative of a decade of assault, and more recently 9th Circuit case 11-56043.

  2. If this seems like overposting, I generally publish when I’ve been assaulted, or when my privacy is ignored, or when my cats cry out in pain by some action of government. I’ve been assaulted thousands of times over the past decade now, I’m sure that estimate is accurate….the other day one of my cats was bleeding, hair missing from its back, and two of them actually have scabs on their back as a result of being shot with energy weaponry. According to one report this results from my publication of Ronald Reagan quotes and biographical facts, indisputable and in fact from wikipedia. The federal government of course has all the power in the world to stop it.

    Typically operating through puppets–including puppets in the judiciary–the right wing has for decades been committing crimes and trying to classify them to cover them up, a move explicitly forbidden by the Code of Federal Regulations. The right has accomplished its political objectives by presenting a fraction of the evidence to judicial officials who, having seen the pattern dozens of times before, could not help but realize that they were being presented with incomplete and inaccurate information.


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