John Sexton Should Not Be Speaking at NYU

WSN Editorial Board

On Feb. 21, NYU’s The Review and Debates Club hosted an event to promote a commitment to free speech. “The competition of ideas is crucial to maintaining free societies and free people,” the event page read. “Today, this fundamental notion is being challenged across the spectrum, and those who believe in it must stand up and be counted.”

While this message is admirable, the club strangely chose former NYU President John Sexton to headline the event. While Sexton has been recognized for his skillful debating, prompting free speech has never been a major focus of his platform, which makes the choice to have Sexton headline this particular event confusing. Furthermore, Sexton’s tenure at NYU was filled with inexcusable mistakes, and he should never be an honoree at this university.

Sexton’s landmark contribution to NYU was the creation of the Abu Dhabi campus. However, as an extensive investigation by The New York Times revealed, the campus was inhumanely built. Workers were underpaid, overcrowded and abused. Many workers’ passports were even confiscated. Sexton was repeatedly warned that this abuse could occur during the construction of the campus, but he — indifferent to basic human rights — ignored such concerns. In fact, even after it was revealed that 10,000 workers were mistreated, Sexton’s administration pointed out that a majority of the workers were still treated fairly, implying that this excused the mistreatment of thousands. Not only do these actions violate the core values of this university, they violate basic human decency.

Outside of this controversy that surrounds Sexton, there are other problematic issues with inviting Sexton back on campus to speak. Foremost among these is the rampant expansionism that Sexton initiated which needlessly continues to drive up tuition costs. The university’s intrusive practice of setting up satellite campuses and buying up buildings around the East Village has given the institution a bad name amongst those inconvenienced by this expansionism — not least of which are the students who have to front the costs.


While Sexton does have a place in the National Speech and Debate Association’s Hall of Fame, this distinction does not outweigh the cons of inviting someone of this character back to NYU. To warmly welcome him back in spite of his ongoing controversies is to tacitly excuse these actions, which is certainly not worth one evening of lecture. The Review and Debates would have been better off finding another, less controversial figure who would better represent the ideals of pluralism, freedom and transparency.

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  1. WSN again masking opinion pieces behind “Editorial Board” write ups – if you want to call someone out, a thing least put your name on it.

  2. WSN Editorial Meeting: let’s throw around value judgements like “needless” and “inexcusable” and recklessly suggest that an explanation of a situation = an excuse for HUMAN RIGHTS abuse. If we throw up a bunch of hyperlinks, nobody will think twice!

  3. Wow. I think this assessment of Sexton’s legacy at NYU is so one-sided that it detracts from your legitimate grievances about his actions as President.

    To start, the idea that NYU’s expansion, both in the Village and at satellite campuses internationally, has brought only inconvenience and higher tuition to students is incredibly naive. I speak as an alum who only attended NYU because of its international footprint, and would not have considered it otherwise. Even for those student who don’t take advantage of these opportunities, the increased prestige and visibility they contribute to NYU adds value to all of our degrees.

    None of this is to say that Sexton had a perfect record as President or that the worker treatment in NYU AD isn’t a legitimate critique of his tenure. But when you frame your opinion on his actions this one-sidedly it comes across as a witch hunt rather than a well-considered position.

    you might not like John Sexton, or you might think that the downsides of his tenure outweigh the positives; but to act like his contributions were so one-sidedly negative that he shouldn’t be invited back to campus is petulant and intellectually dishonest.


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