Opinion: NYU’s board of trustees contradicts the university’s mission of inclusivity

Election conspiracists, CEOs who profit from immigrant detention, and other proponents of inequality have no place leading NYU. These trustees should be removed from office.

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NYU’s board of trustees includes an election conspiracist and a CEO who profits from immigrant detention. These people, among others on the board, contradict NYU’s self-proclaimed diversity and progressivism. (Images via Wikimedia Commons, Staff Photo and Illustration by Manasa Gudavalli)

By WSN Editorial Board

The presence of an election conspiracist and the CEO of an investment firm with massive holdings in private prison and immigration concentration camp operators proves that the NYU board of trustees contradicts the university’s stated goals of diversity and inclusion. The board of trustees a group of volunteers who are responsible for “setting the overarching strategic direction of the University” should not include members who disregard the ideals of diversity and inclusion. 

Maria Bartiromo, Laurence D. Fink and Kelly Kennedy Mack must be removed from office if NYU cares about its mission beyond mere lip service. 

If you scroll through NYU’s website, you’ll find many references to the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. After Black Lives Matter brought greater awareness to the extent to which structural racism impacts minorities, many institutions realized that they have an important part to play in combating racism. NYU deserves commendation for organizing anti-racist programming as well as other initiatives, but these actions are woefully insufficient — especially when members of the university’s board of trustees stand firmly against these values.

WSN’s recent reporting highlights the controversial history of Maria Bartiromo, a Trump-aligned Fox commentator who has advanced the former president’s conspiracy theories regarding the November election and the Jan. 6 insurrection. Driven by blind partisan hatred, she claimed that there were “enough illegal votes in Georgia to tip the 2020 results.” In addition to being factually incorrect, it is also dismissive of the millions of Black voters who turned out in support of the Biden-Harris ticket and the Democratic candidates for Senate in November and January, respectively. Her baseless allegations of widespread fraud also erase the historic voter turnout of other minority groups and young people. If you are one of those young people who voted against Trump, Bartiromo does not believe that your vote should count. She may even believe that you participated in voter fraud. It is unconscionable that a far-right election conspiracist has a substantive voice in the direction of NYU. 

Bartiromo has also alleged that the United States is not a systemically racist country willfully ignoring that decades of redlining have caused Black New Yorkers to be 40% more likely to have asthma than white New Yorkers. Even though stop-and-frisk has been nominally discontinued, Black people constituted 56% of NYPD stops last year, with most stops concentrated in the city’s Black communities. Does Bartiromo consider these injustices to be merely coincidental? Structural racism is as much a part of New York as is the Empire State Building. Bartiromo is unfit to be a leader at this university which prides itself on inclusion while being uneducated on the racism that Black and brown students face. 

Other members of the board contradict NYU’s mission. As WSN reported last spring, Vice Chair Laurence D. Fink’s investment firm, BlackRock, has invested in funds that support fossil fuel companies, nuclear weapons parts manufacturers, construction companies contracted to build the Mexico-United States border wall, U.S. Department of Defense contractors, and operators of private U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement concentration camps. Fink actively profits from inhumane detention centers, exclusionary immigration policies, the main drivers of climate change, and weapons and war. Certainly, a university that has previously spoken out against harmful ICE policies should not have a trustee who actively profits from some of those same policies. 

The contradictions do not end with Bartiromo and Fink. Kelly Kennedy Mack, who sits on five committees and chairs two, is the president of Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, a real estate development company. In 2006 — the year that Mack was named president of Corcoran Sunshine — federal agents charged Corcoran Sunshine’s parent company with steering white buyers to traditionally white neighborhoods, discriminating against Black clients and offering incentives to white clients who rented in white neighborhoods. Her company’s discrimination against Black clients ought to be cause for removal from the board, which should embody anti-racism and inclusivity. 

All of the aforementioned board members should be removed from office. Section 17 of NYU’s bylaws dictate that trustees can be removed from office by a simple majority vote, provided that the 60% quorum is satisfied. Trustees who seek to represent the interest of students should move to remove Bartiromo, Fink and Mack from the board of trustees. 

University President Andrew Hamilton can also play a role in removing the three from the board. As someone who condemned conspiracy theories regarding the election and expressed solidarity with NYU’s Black community after George Floyd’s murder, he should publicly call for the removal of Bartiromo, Fink and Mack. Hamilton should also exercise his power as an Ex Officio Trustee and support the removal of the three trustees. By doing so, he will demonstrate that the university’s commitment to racial justice is more than just performative. 

NYU proudly states its commitment to its diverse student body on its website, writing, “You are an irreplaceable part of NYU’s uniquely diverse community, a community committed to fostering inclusion, excellence, learning, growth, and leadership of its students.” These are wonderful sentiments on NYU’s part, but they remain unfulfilled every day that Bartiromo, Fink and Mack continue to hold office on the board of trustees. The three have demonstrated a clear disregard for inclusion, through both their rhetoric and actions. Bartiromo in particular has minimized and erased the experiences of NYU’s Black and brown population. It’s wonderful that Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” was the central title for 2020’s NYU Reads initiative, but how much is that doing when a trustee doesn’t believe that the mass incarceration described within the book has anything to do with racism? Hamilton was right to condemn ICE for unfairly targeting international students, but how meaningful are those statements when a trustee is profiting from unjust and racist ICE policies? 

If NYU is as serious about inclusion as it claims to be, Bartiromo, Fink and Mack will be removed from the board of trustees. Inaction will validate the fears of so many students that NYU’s statements about racial justice are meaningless and merely an attempt to avoid backlash. 

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, e-print edition. Contact the Editorial Board at [email protected]