The Need for a Democratic Board of Trustees at NYU

With many NYU students struggling in this present crisis, the administration’s letter makes it clear that we need student representation at all levels of NYU.

Paul Ibuzor, Contributing Writer

The disruptive nature of COVID-19 has heavily impacted many sectors, including higher education. In the wake of the controversial $14 billion relief package passed by Congress, many universities have publicly communicated with their communities on the nature of their financial situations.

NYU is no exception. On Monday, April 27, President Andrew Hamilton, Provost Katherine Fleming and Executive Vice President Martin Dorph authored a letter to the NYU community discussing the university’s situation during this crisis. In that unusually frank piece, President Hamilton made the claim that NYU is “not a business” — contradicting how the actions the university has taken over the course of this crisis have continued to favor the financial integrity of NYU over student needs. 

As reported by NYU Local, NYU is estimated to receive around $25 million from the CARES Act — which has interestingly been left out of the letter — and hasn’t disclosed how that money will be spent during a time when numerous graduate students desperately need emergency summer funding and fellowship extensions. NYU has also failed to offer prorated tuition reimbursements to Tisch students when their quality of education has clearly decreased with the transition to remote instruction. The university’s never-ending expansion continues as well, during a time when 88% of NYU students do not receive enough financial aid to fully meet their needs and the average student debt at graduation amounts to nearly $30,000. The administration avoids implementing these policies when in the past, it had money to offer loans to professors and provide bonuses for administrators who are already paid millions of dollars. It’s truly a well-oiled machine.

The operators of this machine are none other than the Board of Trustees — which consists of many investors, bankers, lawyers and businesspeople — all of whom make crucial decisions about how the university runs. They appoint the President and have the power to veto resolutions that are passed by the University Senate, which they have regularly exercised in their repeated refusal to allow students and faculty to sit on the Board. At this rate, the only way to have all students, faculty and staff represented meaningfully on the Board would be to have a binding university-wide referendum on the topic. Without that measure, this clique of well-off professionals will continue to regularly circumvent democracy and actively deny students the right to fully participate in the most important discussions concerning our education and employment. Those who feel the brunt of the university’s decisions deserve to have a hand in the institution’s decision-making process. 

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The university’s decision on this subject is clear. In an interview with WSN last year, President Hamilton said that NYU shouldn’t be a fundamentally democratic institution. The current situation shows the consequences of this stance.

During the pandemic, the university has continued to make poor decisions that haven’t put students first. NYU was criticized on all fronts for a muddled response that consistently left students in the dark about their education and their employment. The university also held a COVID-19 Forum where administrators spent their allotted time reciting university policy instead of allowing students to engage and ask questions to their administrators — which says a lot about how students and their needs are perceived. More specifically, it shows how the university continues to see students and the rest of the NYU community as unequal to the Board and the administration in terms of decision-making, and that dismissing students’ concerns is acceptable.

Thus, when President Hamilton was transparent in his recent letter — which some might read as a prelude to mass layoffs and supposedly responsible fiscal policies — one should certainly be skeptical. 

Why is it that only in a moment of crisis are students treated as equals by the university, and what is the reason for the administration’s sudden transparency with the student body? Why must students socialize the losses with emergency aid that is limited to $500 and fewer summer student employment opportunities when, during normal times, assistance and support are denied to the students who need them most?

When President Hamilton and the rest of the administration lament the possibility of the university losing its vital revenue streams when those very same revenue streams — the student body — have been treated with the utmost disdain for years, one cannot help but be unsympathetic. This present crisis has shown that student representation at every level of governance is needed. It is crucial that there is a referendum on representation for students, faculty and staff on the Board of Trustees. Without this, the university will continue to ignore the basic needs of the NYU community.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Paul Ibuzor at [email protected]

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