The search for NYU’s next president ended on Wednesday when the university announced that Andrew Hamilton, the former provost of Yale University and current vice-chancellor of Oxford University, will become president after John Sexton steps down in January 2016. He joins the university at a tumultuous time: application numbers have reached record highs, but the Sexton administration has been criticized for human rights abuses at its portal campuses, mounting student debt and its Greenwich Village expansion plans. In the days since the announcement, many students have expressed their opinion of the incoming president on social media. As a student body, we should withhold judgement and not prejudice ourselves against Hamilton until he has a chance to take the reins himself.
One of the main criticisms levied against Hamilton stems from a 2013 article in The Guardian, in which he said he expressed support for higher tuition fees for top universities in England. It is important to bear in mind that Hamilton was suggesting that top-tier universities in the United Kingdom should be able to charge above the government-mandated tuition cap, which is not the same as supporting tuition hikes across the board. While some have interpreted this to mean that Hamilton sees education as a commodity, his overall point seemed to have been that raising tuition costs was a reasonable way of bridging a funding “chasm.”
Whatever the case, U.K. universities are different from U.S. institutions: a year’s tuition at Oxford costs less than $14,000, accounting for only 25 percent of the U.K. average household income. In contrast, a year at NYU represents 61 percent of the U.S. average household income. While his opinions on tuition costs are relevant, it is unfair to judge Hamilton too harshly based on comments made about a different education system on a different country under a different government.
I am hopeful that having an academic at the helm will repair relations between administration and faculty, particularly after their vote of no confidence in Sexton. I am encouraged to read Hamilton called college education a “sound investment.” For too long, the NYU administration has been perceived to make decisions based on what is good business rather than what is good for students. It remains to be seen whether Hamilton will decrease the expansionism that has characterized
It is too early to say whether Sexton will be remembered most for the NYU 2031 plan, contentious financial aid policies or his penchant for hugs. Whatever Sexton’s legacy will be, it will consist of actions and judgments he made during his 14-year tenure as president — not of idle speculation in the months before he took office. Early speculation about what Hamilton will do with NYU’s tuition costs is overly negative and unfair. We owe it to the new president to reserve judgment until January 2016.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 23 print edition. Email Tommy Collison at [email protected]