The Misleading Nature of the NYU Administration’s Letter

In an email to the NYU community, the administration attempted to justify the university’s failure to reimburse tuition and financially accommodate students despite its sizable endowment. NYU is not being transparent about its financial assets nor its ability to meet the needs of its student body.

Asha Ramachandran, Deputy Opinion Editor

Last week, NYU President Andrew Hamilton, Executive Vice President Martin Dorph and Provost Katherine Fleming sent an email to the NYU community, providing several updates and an explanation of NYU’s recent actions taken as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The email particularly centered on financial matters, explaining the costs that the school has incurred due to the virus, NYU’s potential revenue shortfalls and highlighting all the “support” the university has given to the community. All of the posturing within the email that portrays NYU as a generous and philanthropic institution deliberately obscures the fact that NYU is failing to live up to its mission statement and core values which so proudly advertises

NYU’s endowment is around $4.3 billion and has steadily been steadily growing over the last 15 years thanks to significant contributions from wealthy donors. Perhaps in response to outrage from the community at the absence of tuition refunds given the size of the endowment, Hamilton included a note in his email, reading, “For the most part, funds in the endowment cannot be used to resolve revenue shortfalls, both because most of the funds are restricted (i.e., legally designated for specific purposes by donors)…it must be managed as a perpetual source of support for fulfilling NYU’s academic mission, both now and in the future.” This claim, seemingly included as a justification, implies that NYU must be continuing to rigorously fulfill its mission statement and values even in this time of crisis, given that’s what it has designated billions upon billions of dollars for. 

The administration is not being transparent about its operating budget nor the legal restrictions placed on the endowment by donors. It claims “most of the funds are restricted,” yet according to its own documentation, most of NYU’s assets do not have donor restrictions. Hamilton took advantage of the fact that most NYU community members do not know the fine details of the university’s revenue streams. The endowment and investment returns themselves only comprised 4% of the university’s operating revenue in 2019, which amount to over $9 billion. Its unrestricted net assets amount to over $2 billion, far exceeding the expenses from the coronavirus that Hamilton outlined in his email. The university’s operating budget also has considerable room to reallocate money for exorbitant construction funds.

In its mission statement, NYU prides itself for being “one of the most networked and extensive worldwide platforms for learning, teaching, researching, building knowledge, and inventing new ways to meet humanity’s challenges.” Being a leader in global education that provides students with material access to resources worldwide is an essential part of the university’s reputation. 

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Now, having transitioned to remote instruction entirely, students have lost access to these “networked and extensive worldwide platforms” that the university spends billions of dollars to guarantee. And while NYU flaunts “meet[ing] humanity’s challenges,” it fails, in a moment of extreme crisis, to meet the challenges of its own student body. After evicting students from its campuses, the university capped emergency aid at $500 and refused to issue tuition refunds for the spring semester. All of the benefits the university offers that justify its bloated tuition such as being located in New York City, having “a rich environment,” study-abroad programs, access to large libraries and on-campus facilities, etc. have been lost. 

NYU claims that it “provides a rigorous, demanding education.” It also claims that student success is “an ethos and an office.” Yet the prospects of student success are dwindling, especially as students become increasingly disillusioned with remote instruction. On multiple levels, the university is not doing enough to academically support its students nor live up to its academic mission. 

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

Email Asha Ramachandran at [email protected]

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