Editorial: The NYU board of trustees must become more transparent 

In light of the recent appointment of three new trustees on Oct. 18, NYU’s board of trustees should improve its transparency. 

Last+week%2C+the+NYU+board+of+trustees+announced+the+addition+of+three+new+board+members+with+little+notice+to+students.+Despite+the+major+role+they+play+in+overseeing+the+university%2C+the+board+is+not+transparent+to+the+student+body.+%28Photo+by+Sayer+Devlin%29

Sayer Devlin

Last week, the NYU board of trustees announced the addition of three new board members with little notice to students. Despite the major role they play in overseeing the university, the board is not transparent to the student body. (Photo by Sayer Devlin)

By WSN Editorial Board

On Oct. 18, NYU announced that Terri Burns, David Ko and Traci Lerner have joined the board of trustees. This announcement was made with little fanfare — the three newest trustees have been listed on NYU’s website at least since early September — despite the enormous role that the board plays in our education: They setthe overarching strategic direction of the University” and make significant financial decisions. Though President Andy Hamilton does not believe that NYU should be a democratic institution, students should at least receive basic information regarding members of the university’s governing body. The inconspicuous way that the university announced these trustees makes clear the need for a more open and transparent board, and their careers in elite finance raise questions about how effectively they can serve working-class members of the student body. The board of trustees should provide more information about their deliberations and how they select new trustees.

NYU’s charter includes almost no information regarding the selection of trustees. While trustee Lerner revealed that William Berkley, the chair of the board of trustees, offered her a position, we do not yet know if there is any recruitment mechanism other than informal elite networks. With 30% of NYU students taking on federal loans to pay for college, it’s necessary to have a board that is mindful of financial insecurity among the student body. However, Bloomberg reporting uncovered that NYU dismissed several lawsuits requesting partial tuition refunds due to pandemic-related financial stress. With zero transparency, the student body has no idea how the board made this decision. If NYU continues to rely on elite networks to staff the institution’s governing body, the administration’s dismissive nature will keep hurting financially insecure students. NYU should reveal how they recruit members of the board so that as a community, we can deliberate and find a more egalitarian way to select trustees. 

In future recruitments, the board of trustees must properly vet prospective members to identify whether they have backgrounds that are in line with the university’s commitment to anti-racism and environmental sustainability. Previous reporting from WSN has examined trustee Larry Fink’s hypocrisy — advocating for sustainability while his Wall Street firm has significant holdings in the fossil fuel industry. Additionally, WSN has reported on trustee Maria Bartiromo’s role as a de-facto propagandist for Fox News, where she alleges that the 2020 election was stolen. With a more transparent recruitment process, some of the staffing choices that contradict NYU’s professed mission could be avoided. 

The board of trustees is also rather tight-lipped about the content of their meetings. While they are required to meet four times a year, the most recent meeting summary on their site is from Dec. 11, 2019. The student body has no information regarding the board’s deliberations on how to respond to COVID-19, the graduate strike of last semester or the difficult financial situations in which many students find themselves. While the board, as a result of NYU’s charter, is not a democratic institution, they could at least offer some transparency and information when they are making decisions on our behalf. The board should release summaries or recordings of their meetings so that we can be made aware of the deliberations that shape our academic experience. 

NYU’s tax returns credit Berkley with eight hours of work per week and Fink with four, while most other trustees are only credited with two hours total, all unpaid. This calls into question what the trustees are responsible for and why they’re putting so little time into setting the “overarching strategic direction of the University.” It is incumbent upon the administration to keep the NYU community, especially students and families who pay record-high tuition, well-informed on how the board is operating. 

In a world dominated by COVID-19, it is more important than ever for clear, transparent and democratic decision-making. The secrecy of the board of trustees reveals that NYU disagrees — they would rather make management decisions in private, with no accountability. Such an attitude is dismissive of the student body, and heavily benefits the interests of members of the elite with jobs on Wall Street or at Fox News. Providing basic information on the recruitment of trustees and what happens during board meetings is not a controversial or difficult task. 

A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 25, 2021, e-print edition. Contact the Editorial Board at [email protected]