NYU Professors Accuse President of Exaggerating Need for Expansion

By Maya Shwayder on July 9, 2012 1:39pm 

State Sen. Tom Duane testifies during NYU's expansion hearing.
State Sen. Tom Duane testifies during NYU's expansion hearing.
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New York City Council/William Alatriste

GREENWICH VILLAGE — A handful NYU professors and one recent alumna have written an open letter to university President John Sexton accusing him of exaggerating the school's need for new classroom space.

The university has sparked controversy with its controversial proposal to develop land in Greenwich Village as part of a massive expansion plan. Sexton spoke at a recent City Council hearing about NYU's desperate need for space — including more classrooms in the school's core area.

But the letter's five authors say they were "startled" by Sexton's assertion at the hearing that 10,000 students go to class on Fridays and that all classrooms are fully booked every Friday.

"This does not square with our own experience as NYU faculty and students nor does it accord with the data about course scheduling we have been able to compile," the faculty wrote in a July 9 letter they said they delivered to Sexton.

They also said they know "there are very few lecture classes on Fridays, and that Friday classroom utilization is 'uneven' across the university — to cite [Sexton's] description of the situation."

"We have witnessed great variation in department cultures and student habits regarding Friday classes as well as early morning classes on other weekdays," the letter continued.

Jeff Goodwin, professor of sociology at NYU and one of the letter's authors, said that in his experience, most classes run on a Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday schedule.

"It is unusual for there to be a lecture class on Friday," he told DNAinfo.com New York. "There is a lot of underutilized classroom space on Friday.

Goodwin also pointed out that part of the space allocated in NYU's plan is not for academic space.  "Comparatively little of the plan is for additional academic space," he added. "Some of it is for dormitories, and for this hotel and retail space."

The faculty requested more information about course scheduling and about NYU's business plan, saying they need it in order to "assess your statement that NYU’s financial health has never been better, or the claim that the project will not place great strain on our university's budget," the letter stated.

NYU President John Sexton testifies during NYU's expansion hearing.
NYU President John Sexton testifies during NYU's expansion hearing.
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New York City Council/William Alatriste

They cited the fact that the average NYU student has $41,000 in debt at graduation, as compared to $25,000 per student nationally.

"The admin doesn't really talk much to faculty here, so we don't really know what information they have about space needs," Goodwin continued. "Quite frankly, because of this lack of communication, there's not a great deal of trust. We certainly don't think that this huge project is needed to address our space needs."

The letter is signed by Goodwin; Jan Blustein, Professor of Health Policy and Medicine; Patrick Deer, Associate Professor of English; Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication; Ann Pellegrini, Associate Professor of Performance Studies and Religious Studies; and Meg Rooney, NYU graduate alumna and current Adjunct Professor at Marymount Manhattan College.

John Beckman, spokesman for NYU, said Sexton was not aware of the letter and had not yet received it. Beckman also said that the administration was very careful to take faculty concerns into consideration.

"We take careful and respectful note of these faculty voices," Beckman wrote in an email, "Just as we know that they must have taken note of their many faculty colleagues, deans, administrators, trustees, alums, and students who spoke in support of proposal."

Beckman said the proposal arose from "our honest, best assessment of academic space neds of our faculty and our schools," and that "the proposals strike a good balance" between community concerns and NYU's needs.

This is not the first time faculty has spoken out against the plan. The group NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan testified against the plan at the June 29 hearings at City Hall.

Councilwoman Margaret Chin testifies during NYU's expansion hearing.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin testifies during NYU's expansion hearing.
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New York City Council/William Alatriste

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