Protesters met today in Schwartz Plaza to challenge both the lack of student representation on the Board of Trustees and board member John Paulson’s connection to President Donald Trump.
Student Labor Action Movement — a student group on campus dedicated to student power and economic justice — organized the rally in response to Paulson’s position as an economic advisor to Trump. The protests focused on the continued effort to achieve student representation on the Board of Trustees, with the support of the Students Senators Council.
On Thursday, SSC voted favorably on a resolution — drafted with the help of SLAM members — that will potentially allow one undergraduate and one graduate student to join the university’s Board of Trustees.
Shortly after the rally was scheduled to begin, the group of about 40 protesters admonished Hamilton’s lack of support for the resolution, and then relocated to the atrium of Bobst Library after 15 minutes of demonstrating. Once inside Bobst, the students formed a walkway outside the only elevator that goes to President Andrew Hamilton’s twelfth floor office. Chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, John Paulson’s got to go!” and “What do we want? Representation. Where do we want it? On the board,” reverberated around the library as bystanders watched curiously and Public Safety officers stood at bay.
After protesters spent half an hour in their positions, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Marc Wais came and spoke to SLAM organizers Drew Weber and Katie Shane. The two leaders then announced to the crowd that Wais offered a private meeting with Hamilton, but they disagreed to the terms suggested by the university.
CAS senior Weber said that the club declined the offer to meet with Hamilton in a private setting because of SLAM’s emphasis on transparency. The group demanded to meet with Hamilton in a public setting, where an open Q&A would be available to all students.
“One of the motivating principles behind this campaign is transparency and accountability,” Weber said. “We see there are a lot of people on the board who are not standing up for the interests of us as students. We think that a public dialogue regarding this issue would be significantly more productive than a closed meeting with President Hamilton.”
Weber said that if Hamilton believes that the Board of Trustees should not include students when there are board members like Paulson — whose connection to Trump troubles students — then he should be willing to say that in public. Weber believes Hamilton should accept the scrutiny that will likely come from students’ questions.
Just before the protests dispersed, SLAM announced that after further deliberation between Wais and Hamilton, the administration would permit both a private meeting with the club and a town hall discussion, in which the club can attend and voice their concerns.
NYU Spokesperson John Beckman said that there was a good outcome from today’s protest. He said that Wais and the students agreed to a proposal that a delegation of five representatives have a private meeting with NYU’s president within the next two weeks at which they could express their concerns.
“NYU’s position on the appointment of a student board member is that it is both in line with peer institutions — roughly 80 percent of private universities don’t have a student board member — and with the position of the Association of Governing Boards, which recommends against student board members.”
Beckman said that the NYU board believes that it is essential that its members bring a broad, wide-ranging and holistic perspective to their work, and appointing members to serve specifically as representatives of particular stakeholder groups is at odds with that principle. He said that nonetheless, student concerns such as these are important to the university and the board.
Gallatin freshman and SLAM member Stephanie Rountree helped organize today’s rally, and she said that the club had initially planned the rally to be a theatrical, Boston Tea Party-sequel based off the idea of no tuition without representation, because Hamilton is British. However, Rountree said that the club decided against this and to instead focus more on the recent SSC vote and Paulson’s connection to Trump.
“Although board members have criticized the idea of student trustees by claiming that students wouldn’t be able to be objective in making decisions on how NYU is run, Paulson is far from a neutral participant,” Rountree said. “In fact, we have reason to believe that Paulson’s presence on the board is what led to Hamilton’s poor handling of the call for NYU to become a sanctuary campus.”
She also said that SLAM had planned an event regardless of the results of the SSC vote. Rountree thinks that it is important to show continued support for the Student Senators in their attempts to alter the current state of the board and to increase backing from the NYU community.
“We hope that our action prompts students to look at the structure that governs our school with a more critical eye,” Rountree said. “We pay $71 thousand a year and have no say in how it’s spent. That’s inexcusable. The only way to ensure that the board has our best interests at heart is if students have a seat at the table.”
Rountree said she is aware that one rally will not rectify the issue of student representation on the Board of Trustees, but the club wants to bring attention to the numerous board members whose primary interests lie beyond the scope of improving student life at NYU.
Gallatin senior Sumathy Kumar attended the rally and said that she decided to show support because the administration needs to pay attention to the voices of students. She believes SLAM’s campaign is important because student representation on the board is vital to prevent more economic violence
“I wasn’t surprised to learn about NYU’s connections to John Paulson,” Kumar said. “NYU’s board of trustees is filled with wealthy business leaders who care more about their own financial success than the needs of the student body. NYU has proven over and over again that they will prioritize profit and the desires of the board over the very real needs of students, placing themselves in line with the policies and views of the new presidential administration.”
CAS sophomore Marcyana Elle-Pierre is also a member of SLAM, and she said her concern is that of the 69 Board of Trustees members, only two are in education — including President Hamilton.
“We understand NYU’s financial motivations, but this should not mean that administration let corporations and the wealthy preside heavily over student life and continuously silence our voices,” Elle-Pierre said. “Students should always still be the top priority of a university, and we are here today to remind others of this.”
Rountree thinks that many NYU students are not aware of the conservative pressures influencing the university, and in particular the Board of Trustees.
“Most students here like to believe that NYU is a wholly liberal school,” Rountree said. “But most people are unaware that these conservative pressures exist under the surface and actively prevent us from providing everyone in the NYU community with meaningful opportunities to affect change. The board is working to their benefit, not ours.”
UPDATE: A previous version of this article did not include a quote from John Beckman, however, the article has been updated to include a quote from Beckman.