NYU President Sexton May Face No-Confidence Vote on Expansion

Professors in New York University’s largest school will decide today whether President John Sexton should face a no-confidence vote because of his failure to consult with them about expansion.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will vote from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on whether to put confidence in Sexton to a test, according an e-mail from James Uleman, chairman of the faculty’s senate caucus. If the measure passes, the no-confidence vote will take place next week, the e-mail said.

Sexton has opened NYU campuses and study centers in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and South America, and has city approval to for new construction in New York’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. Criticism of Sexton for failing to include faculty discussions of how the university’s makeover affects the academic environment have been increasing, said Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis.

“The Sexton administration has been exercising unilateral decision making in changing the face of the university,” he said today in a telephone interview. “The faculty feel more and more like managed employees.”

NYU’s Board of Trustees continues to support Sexton and his strategy for building the school, Chairman Martin Lipton said in a statement.

“Its transformation from a regional university into a university that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s most revered universities is a legendary accomplishment,” he said in the statement. “The trustees’ hope is that the community commits itself to sustaining that spirit of progress.”

Growing Concerned

NYU professors are growing increasingly concerned about the school’s presence in Abu Dhabi and China, where there are restrictions on academic freedom, Ross said. Sexton has ignored faculty requests for him to speak out against the detainment of professors from other universities in Abu Dhabi, said Ross, who is also a president of NYU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Faculty have expressed concern that NYU’s presence in these countries gives legitimacy to repressive governments and that teachers may be required to work there, Ross said.

The expansion in Greenwich Village also puts pressure on the school to raise funds while many of its students face crushing debt, he said.

“I can only conclude that the student-debt burden is going to increase because of this growth,” Ross said.

Debt Burden

Tuition and fees at NYU cost $40,082 in the 2010-2011 academic year, and the full cost of attendance for students living on campus was about $56,700, according to the Institute for College Access & Success, a Washington-based advocacy group. The same year, about half of NYUs graduating seniors had student loans, with an average debt of $36,351 per borrower, the group said. At Harvard University, by comparison, about 34 percent of graduating students had student loans, with an average debt per borrower of $11,780.

While the faculty has had differences with Sexton that could be addressed with more communication, a no-confidence vote on Sexton would be premature, said Jess Benhabib, an economics professor.

“The measure is quite extreme,” he said in a telephone interview. “There are some issues about governance and some issues about consultation with the faculty. Those are best addressed by engaging in a dialogue.”

If the faculty decides to move ahead, the no-confidence vote would take place electronically from Dec. 17 through midnight Dec. 21. The resolution, “The Faculty of Arts and Sciences has no confidence in John Sexton’s leadership,” would be the only item on the ballot, Uleman’s e-mail said.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net

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