After taking office as NYU’s 15th president, John Sexton announced his intention to transform NYU into an exemplary institution of higher learning. The cornerstone of his effort centered on the school’s expansion, both in New York City and abroad. As lauded on NYU’s website, Sexton ushered in a period of growth, during which the university expanded its international reach and created new programs, helping to increase the school’s prestige. Statistics support the praise given to Sexton for establishing NYU’s global presence. Between 2011 and 2015 alone, NYU rose in stature from number 60 to number 38 on The Times Higher Education World University Rankings’ list of top global universities based in the United States. Further, NYU received over 60,000 applications for the class of 2019, more than doubling the number received in 2002.
But numbers don’t tell the whole story. The same ideology that enabled NYU to develop as a global force has resulted in the inability for the university to adequately provide for its current attendees. After overextending the university’s reach, Sexton appears unwilling to decelerate the rate of expansion, resulting in student debt and increasing tuition prices.
According to a 2013 New Yorker article, 54 percent of NYU students graduate with debt. And, as a study from Propublica found, NYU students receiving Pell grants, whose family income is less than $30,000 annually, graduate with an average of $23,250 debt. In 2013, Sexton received no-confidence votes from faculty of five different schools. With these votes, faculty sought to draw attention to their discontent with Sexton’s governance, compared by some to that of a corporate president or imperial leader. But he continues to focus on the Global Network University, ignoring pleas to stop unnecessary expenditures and instead provide adequate resources for existing programs and financial support for students already attending.
While students protest the price of attending NYU, the administration has done little to ameliorate the costs, instead heedlessly continuing undesired expansion and accordingly raising tuition. The dismissive attitude in response to the no-confidence votes seems to characterize Sexton’s approach to complaints from members of the NYU community. Rather than considering the issues raised by groups or individuals opposed to the uncompromising quest for expansion, Sexton sends a conciliatory message before continuing with the original plan and disregarding community opinion.
Known for his willingness to chat with students or give a hug, Sexton attempts to present an image as a president considerate his students’ needs. But his policies, in addition to his exorbitant $1.5 million salary and excessive retirement package, which offers a $2.5 million bonus and $800,000 each year, reflect Sexton’s disregard for the financial troubles of the student body and his obstinate quest for a global network.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, December 7 print edition. Email Dan Moritz-Rabson at [email protected]