NYU’s board of trustees has been at the center of attention in recent months due to campaigns from student groups such as NYU Divest and the Student Labour Action Movement advocating for increased transparency and student involvement on the board through student representation.
As members of the highest decision-making group at NYU, the responsibilities of board members are varied — their duties include fundraising for the university, creating and modifying programs and policy, strategic planning and alumni engagement.
A majority of the sitting trustees are NYU alumni, according to the university’s website. Most of these are Stern and NYU Law graduates. However, there are 13 trustees who have no affiliation with the university other than serving on its board. Ten of the 13 non-affiliated trustees are key figures in either finance, business management or investment banking. Philanthropy interests are a common trend in this group as well.
A main point of student contention against the board is in regards to its homogeneity. Student activists protest that out of 67 board members, only two are in education, including NYU President Andrew Hamilton, while the large majority are involved in the financial sector. These student groups argue that input from chief executive officers and investors might not always align with the most urgent needs of the student body. This concern is especially prominent when it comes to trustees not directly affiliated to NYU.
NYU Spokesperson John Beckman said that the board of trustee selection process is published on NYU’s website and that having a student on the board of trustees is in line with the vast majority of its private university peers.
“With respect to having a student trustee, the board believes that having a trustee who would be a representative of a particular stakeholder group is at odds with the board’s conviction that its members should have a broad-based, holistic outlook (in line with a Board member’s fiduciary responsibilities), be able to serve for an extended period of time, and be positioned to make judgments based on the well-being of the university as a whole rather than acting as an advocate for a particular university constituency,” Beckman said in a statement. “Notwithstanding all of that, the Board does believe that student input is vitally important, and every year the Board conducts both formal and informal sessions with students to listen carefully to their priorities, issues, and concerns. And the Board expects to look for additional opportunities for such exchanges.”
Following is a list of the board members not directly affiliated with the university:
Abdul Aziz Al Ghrurair
Al Ghrurair is the CEO of Mashreq Bank — a predominant bank in the United Arab Emirates. From 2007 to 2011, he was Speaker of the United Arab Emirates Federal National Council, the legislative branch at UAE. Currently he is a sitting member of the Dubai Economic Council.
Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak
Al Mubarak is an Emirati entrepreneur and has been a main overseer of the Abu Dhabi campus development since 2013. He is the CEO of Mubadala Development Company and sits on the board of directors at Ferrari and First Gulf Bank. Additionally, he is the chairman of Manchester City Football Club.
Gary D. Cohn
Cohn is the former president of Goldman Sachs. He recently stepped down to become the chairman of the National Economic Council under the Trump administration. In addition, he is the co-chair of NYU Langone Medical Center and a founding member of NYU Child Study Center and Pevaroff Cohn Professorship.
Feng is the president of Vantone Investment Group and co-founder of Minsheng Bank, a major Chinese bank. He serves as vice chairman in the Education Development Foundation at NYU Shanghai.
Fink is the CEO of BlackRock, the largest assets management corporation worldwide with $5.1 trillion of assets under his management. He is also a member of the Strategic and Policy Forum under the Trump administration, a connection that has recently been criticized by student groups on campus. Fink is the co-chairman of NYU Langone Medical Center and sits on the boards of The Museum of Modern Art, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Robin Hood Foundation.
Thomas S. Murphy
Murphy is an honorary vice-chairman and trustee at NYU. Since 2003, he has been the director of Berkshire Hathaway — a conglomerate holding company, which owns brands such as GEICO, Dairy Queen and Helzberg Diamonds. Previously, he served as CEO at ABC Inc. and as a director of The Walt Disney Company. He has also had a seat on the board of Save The Children Federation since 2015.
David C. Oxman
Oxman is a senior counsel at the prestigious law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell.
Catherine B. Reynolds
Reynolds is the chairman of EduCap, a non-profit which offers private student loans. In fact, Reynolds was one of the pioneers of loans for education in 1987. Along with the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation, EduCap aims to provide alternative options to pay for college besides federal loans. However, The Washington Post has criticized Reynolds for charging high interest rates to high risk borrowers and for buying a Gulfstream jet under the nonprofit’s name.
Steinhardt is the wife of Michael Steinhardt, a Wall Street investor and lifetime donor to NYU. The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development was named after the couple’s several donations to the school. She also chairs the NYU Institute of Fine Arts.
Tandon is a major figure in finance and the humanities. Tandon and her husband donated $100 million to the consequently renamed Tandon School of Engineering in 2015. After becoming the first Indian woman to become a partner at McKinsey & Company, she opened her current financial advisory firm — Tandon Capital Associates. Besides serving on the board, she is also a member of the Board of Overseers at Stern, the President’s Council at Berklee School of Music and Yale University, as well as the board of directors at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Wang chairs the Rilin Construction Group, an agriculture and construction company in China. He has donated to a variety of organizations including NYU, Harvard University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. His $2 million donation to the Clinton Foundation was especially controversial because of his close political links to the Chinese government.
Shelby White is a head trustee at Leon Levy Foundation — her late husband’s foundation. White has donated at least $380 million to charity causes, according to Forbes. Whit has also taught several philanthropy seminars at NYU. Back in 2006, White donated $200 million to NYU for the founding of an ancient studies institute. However, her donation was received with hostility by archeology professors at NYU and other colleges throughout the country who claim that White’s practice of buying antiques is unethical to the discipline’s mission.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article indicated that John Beckman did not give an on-topic response to Washington Square News. That was incorrect, and he did give a response.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 20 print edition. Email Adriana Tapia at [email protected]