Final Sexton town hall sees tensions run high

Diamond Naga Siu, Contributing Writer

On Wednesday, NYU President John Sexton discussed issues ranging from religious holidays to incarcerated education during his last Town Hall at the Pless Hall Annex, before the night inevitably turned to a discussion of the school’s handling of its money.

Sexton began by giving a reflective speech about the personal changes students could expect to see regarding his relationship with politics.

“Jan. 1 will come, and I can begin to articulate my political viewpoints,” Sexton said.

CAS senior Lila Carpenter spoke with Sexton for over 10 minutes regarding NYU’s fossil fuel divestments, saying the school was making a political statement with its refusal to divest. The two went back and forth until Sexton stopped her.

“We are not invested in fossil fuels, as has been explained to you many, many times,” Sexton said.  “We are invested in hedge funds who do not have — in the case of $130 million, a small percentage of our endowment — a rule that they will not invest in hedge funds, and they move through things. But we own no stocks directly.”

Those who were not available to attend the event could submit questions via Twitter with the hashtag #AskJohn, which moderator and SSC president Michael Hengerer read aloud.

One Twitter question came from Tandon senior Earl Co, who tweeted a question about NYU’s costs.

Sexton disputed the claim that NYU is unaffordable, citing the statistic that NYU is now meeting more of its students’ financial needs than ever.

“NYU is affordable now, and I would point out just basic facts and that is that each tuition increase that we’ve had over the last 14 years, which is my time as president, there has been a greater percent increase and actual increase in financial aid,” Sexton said.

NYU Shanghai junior Alex Mayes, who serves in the student government in Shanghai, asked questions regarding the availability of NYU’s New York campus to NYU Shanghai’s students.

“How do you respond to Shanghai students who are told that there isn’t enough space for them in New York’s campus?” Mayes asked. “How do you respond to the idea that they might feel disenfranchised when they can’t come to this campus?”

Sexton explained how studying at different NYU sites is a numbers game, which heavily depends on housing availability and class sizes.

“There is a general presumption that students that enter Abu Dhabi and Shanghai should be able to experience New York,” Sexton said. “But whether it is at a particular point that they would most like, that’s something that has to be worked out.”

After discussing the contentious points, Sexton ended on a positive note regarding his plans after the fall 2015 term. He will continue teaching at NYU, and he described his plans to volunteer with the United Kingdom’s former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Brown and Sexton want to expand education’s availability worldwide and plan to begin the initiative with Syrian refugees.

“I am a human being,” Sexton said. “This is a good way to end. It’s going to be a great deal of fun.”

Before he gives his position to president-elect Andrew Hamilton, Sexton will participate in a debate about religion with students on Oct. 27.

Email Diamond Naga Siu at [email protected]