Hamilton Town Hall Turns Testy


Jemima McEvoy

NYU President Andrew Hamilton speaks at a town hall held today, Wednesday, March 1st, 2017. The Sanctuary Campus movement marched on the event to demand Hamilton declare NYU a sanctuary campus for undocumented students.

Arushi Sahay and Sayer Devlin

Tea with NYU President Andrew Hamilton turned into a verbal sparring match between students and Hamilton in Kimball Hall yesterday. It was intended to focus on affordability, but students shifted the discussion to NYU’s sanctuary campus status.

Hamilton began the town hall by answering pre-prepared questions on affordability alongside a panel of four students. He praised NYU for its efforts to make the university more affordable and claimed that over $500 million in aid is awarded to students each year and that 22 percent of undergraduates — approximately 5,600 students — receive government-funded Pell Grants.

After the panel, Hamilton took questions from students that primarily focused on NYU’s stance on immigration, affordability and student representation on the Board of Trustees. Students chanted “shame” at Hamilton to express their disapproval of the administration’s response to President Donald Trump’s immigration-focused executive actions. Following a question about whether student interest is adequately represented by having Trump supporters on the Board of Trustees, students walked out of the event.

After students repeatedly questioned Hamilton on NYU’s role in protecting undocumented students and requested that he label NYU as a sanctuary campus, he refused and said that he believes the term sanctuary campus is cosmetic and lacks substance.

“I’ve made it clear, and we’ve made statements on the website — I do not believe it is wise for this university to use terms that have no meaning, that have no legal standing,” Hamilton said in response to a question from the jeering crowd. “I believe that actually is a dangerous step [and] that it implies a security that we cannot provide because the word sanctuary is actually a religious word. It is not a legal word, and it has no bearing on the legal definitions that affect our immigrant students.”

Tisch Ph.D. student Kiana Karimi — who was detained briefly at John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens due to her Iranian and American dual citizenship — felt that Hamilton’s responses to questions from the crowd were inadequate in addressing the demands of those affected by Trump’s immigration policy.

“I felt it was absolutely disappointing — I don’t feel he addressed any of our questions,” Karimi said. “I think he made very clear that he’s not interested in declaring NYU as a sanctuary space. He doesn’t clarify why that’s the reason. He announces that he’s a scientist and the words should be about substance, but none of the emails he has sent to us have any sort of clarification about what NYU can offer us.”

In a Nov. 29 letter, Hamilton outlined several steps NYU would take to protect undocumented students. And two months later in his Jan. 29 email, Hamilton said that the university is enforcing a number of policies to protect the privacy and personal information of undocumented students and immigrants on campus.

University spokesperson John Beckman said that the university has addressed student demands in the past, such as raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, banning the box on university applications that identifies students with violent criminal histories and addressing issues of affordability through the Affordability Steering Committee.

“On a range of issues we have been responsive to student concerns,” Beckman said. “The truth is we’ve done more than practically any other university, but there are some places where we think what’s being asked of the university is not the correct course for the university.”

CAS sophomore Izzy Khoufaify, who is a practicing Muslim, thinks it is ridiculous that the university has not declared itself as a sanctuary campus yet, especially because so many students, faculty and staff are affected by the travel ban. Khoufaify said that the town hall frustrated him, because Hamilton did not hold the university accountable.

“I think he tiptoed around a lot of the questions, which was expected — I didn’t really expect him to say, “Oh yeah, we’re gonna declare sanctuary,’” Khoufafy said. “He was a lot firmer about not declaring it than I expected him to be and we kind of got under his skin more than I expected which is great cause that’s the goal, to get him a little agitated and to let him know the student body is out here garnering support for this sanctuary movement.”

Email Sayer Devlin and Arushi Sahay at [email protected].