NYU Faculty Votes No Confidence in Sexton Over Expansion

Professors in New York University’s largest school passed a vote of no-confidence in President John Sexton, saying he failed to consult with them on the school’s expansion.

The Faculty of Arts & Science voted 52 percent for and 39 percent against the no-confidence question, the Faculty Senators Council Caucus said late yesterday in a statement. Eight percent abstained. The result is non-binding and the NYU’s board of trustees said after the vote that it “unanimously and strongly supports” Sexton. Even so, the board said it will start “a conversation” on the best ways to move forward.

“We’re not a corporation and we’re being run like a corporation,” history professor Mary Nolan said before the results were revealed. “It’s this kind of very closed leadership on top that seems to go against what a top research university with a strong liberal arts complexion should be about.”

Sexton has been at the helm since 2002. While he has raised the profile of the school, overseeing a record $3 billion in fundraising, he alienated faculty and angered locals with an ambitious expansion called NYU 2031 that would add at least 2 million square feet in and around the Greenwich Village campus. The $6 billion plan approved by the city last year is opposed by dozens of university departments and divisions and has sparked lawsuits from community residents and faculty.

‘Ultimate Authority’

Sexton, who previously led the university’s law school, also spearheaded a global expansion, opening campuses and study centers in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and South America. Separately, NYU was criticized after it was revealed that U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew got a $685,000 bonus when he resigned as executive vice president for operations in 2006, and also had $1.5 million in housing loans from the university.

“While we cannot and will not compromise the ultimate authority of the duly constituted Board of Trustees in the governance of the university, we agree with President Sexton that the voice of the faculty in shaping the university must be heard and play a significant role,” Chairman Martin Lipton said in the board’s statement yesterday. Lipton and the board’s vice chairmen will hold discussions with members of the NYU community during the next two months about incorporating input from the faculty and other university groups, according to the statement.

“Faculty must be at the center of the academic endeavor and involved in the decision-making,” Sexton himself said in the statement.

Faculty Impact

The electronic ballots were sent out to 682 professors, who voted over five days ending yesterday at 6 p.m. New York time, said Jim Uleman, a psychology professor who is chairman of the faculty’s Senate Caucus. Of those eligible to vote, 83 percent cast ballots, the caucus said.

Faculty backing can have a significant impact on the ability of a university president to lead. Lawrence Summers stepped down as president of Harvard University in 2006 after losing a faculty no-confidence vote. Support from students and professors helped University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan regain her job in August, just weeks after she had been forced to resign by the Board of Visitors.

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