NYU should trust in Sexton, university progress

March 13, 2013

Confidence is the belief that one can rely on someone or something. It encapsulates a feeling of trust, and it is generally reserved for the resolute and dedicated individuals in our lives. It implies the possibility of failure as it relies on a certain measure of faith in someone. It is an acknowledgment of the validity of external judgment. And it is, unquestionably, what I have in NYU President John Sexton.

It is difficult to make this case without trivializing the concerns that are currently, and rightfully, the subject of intense debate. At a university of over 50,000 students that has campuses in nearly 15 countries, fractures in progress are inevitable, and a single, unified vision of growth is impossible. The only consensus is that we must grow — not necessarily in terms of square feet or total students, but as a community of individuals with a shared interest: the welfare of NYU.

The process of achieving growth is, and should be, a contentious one. NYU 2031 is not an ideal expansion plan — many individuals stand to lose their homes, and the NYU gentrification of Greenwich Village is certainly unnerving. Most alarming is the undisclosed cost of the expansion and the possibility that it will be paid for by tuition increases — the expenditure concerns are all the more pertinent now given the expected tightening of NYU’s research and financial aid allowances thanks to political ineptitude in Washington over sequestration cuts. But whatever the discontent over the specifics of the 2031 plan, NYU is currently unsustainable in its physical capacity, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a shortsighted and petulant pseudo-solution.

But, the nature of our disapproval or approval of many NYU policies derives from our unique positions and experiences during our time here. The opportunity to chair the International Affairs Committee of our Student Senators Council, which deals jointly with student oversight at our away sites and the well-being of our international student population here at Washington Square, has given me substantial insight into the functionality of the global network university. The scale of our international web is astonishing — and its unprecedented success at nearly all levels of implementation is even more incredible. In its entirety, the GNU is self-sustaining and incurs no additional costs beyond what is paid for by tuition and fundraising, with the latter contributing more than $300 million. The system generates a surplus for NYU, which is not pocketed by the university but reinvested in our New York City campus. By no means is the system perfect, and my role is to translate student feedback into tangible improvements by the administration, which has consistently shown the desire to put aside bureaucracy to improve our global sites. It is easy for dissenters to criticize the vague concept of something they know nothing about, but it takes a measured approach and a willingness to examine facts to accurately assess the implications of the GNU.

We are not a perfect institution. We have substantial flaws that must be addressed, including pervasive and unsustainable student debt, funding concerns for our expansion plan, a lack of faculty in the highest echelons of university leadership and a corporate mentality amplified by enormous severance payouts to star officials. But I find no comfort in the absolute lack of outreach to students by the faculty spearheading this vote. All we are witnessing is a self-interested power grab that continues to denigrate and disregard the voice of those the university is built to serve — its students?

We are selling ourselves short if all we do is passively complain, become disillusioned and naively hope our problems will vanish by replacing the visionary who has elevated our university to the incredible level where it currently stands. Be constructive. Speak up — I am confident he will listen.

A version of this article was published in the Wednesday, March 13 print edition. Sameer Jaywant is opinion Editor. Email him at sjaywant@nyunews.com.

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