No Confidence recap: administration moves to resolve tensions with faculty

August 25, 2013

Rachel Kaplan/WSN

This summer, conflict between members of the faculty and the administration continued as information surfaced about housing loans to NYU administrators and some professors for vacation homes and the Faculty Against the Sexton Plan requested Board of Trustees Chairman Martin Lipton’s resignation.

This all came after a semester of five passed no-confidence votes in NYU President John Sexton.

On Aug. 14, The Special Committee of the NYU Board of Trustees, which was formed after the first vote of no confidence, sent an email to the entire NYU community subjected “Proposals and Plans on Governance, Voice and Communications.”

Lipton, who is also a member of the Special Committee, said this email is a full response to the issues the faculty brought up last spring when the board met with each school’s faculty.

“Our reaction is that we heard you, and we are taking steps to improve faculty and other constituents’ participation in the governance of the university,” Lipton said.

The email also said that Sexton will not serve as President past 2016. NYU Spokesman John Beckman explained that in 2009, the Board of Trustees announced the renewal of Sexton’s contract to at least 2016, but the decision for Sexton to not serve longer is not a resignation.

“It is important to remember that the email sent [on Aug.14] was not intended as an announcement of when John would retire; instead, the 2016 date was raised in the context of proposing faculty and student representation on the next search committee, and giving the timetable for that search,” Beckman said.

But some faculty are not pleased with the intentions of the email.

Professor of social studies education Robert Cohen expressed disappointment that the email ignores the no-confidence votes and that the board does not plan to expedite Sexton’s presidential term at the university.

“What kind of Board of Trustees can be ‘extremely satisfied with the direction and leadership of the University’ when five schools’ faculty have voted no confidence in the president?” Cohen said, quoting the email.

Cohen said there are positives of the message, including the creation of the Joint Committee, which will allow direct faculty and student involvement in the selection of the next president, as well as the statement about the updated loan program, which will restrict the use of loans to primary residences only, but commented that the committee did not even mention the summer home scandal in the email.

CAS faculty senator Christine Harrington added that faculty are expecting more than communication.

“The communication failed a long time ago,” Harrington said. “When faculty decided to do a vote of no confidence, it’s a last effort to make very clear that the policy direction of the administration is not appropriate.”

The Faculty Senators Council has made efforts to increase faculty involvement in the university decision making since May 2011, when they drafted and approved resolutions to increase shared governance, which they shared with the administration in a letter. The university responded to the resolution saying they want to work with the FSC and consider their suggestions, but argued that the FSC does not have the right to pass such resolutions based on the university bylaws.

But the FSC continued to push for change, and in December 2012, some faculty felt more extreme measures need to be taken.

This led to members of the faculty holding no confidence votes the first time in the history of NYU.

The College of Arts and Science passed the first vote of no confidence against Sexton in March 2013. Meanwhile, the School of Medicine, College of Nursing and College of Dentistry wrote letters of support for the president.

Shortly after, the NYU School of Law passed a vote of confidence in Sexton, but in May, the Gallatin School of Individual Study, the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, the Tisch School of the Arts Asia and New York passed no-confidence votes. The Silver School of Social Work held a no-confidence vote, but the vote did not pass.

Of the 1,115 full-time faculty members who participated in a vote, 564 voted against Sexton, 446 voted in favor of Sexton and 105 abstained. This means a little more than 50 percent of the participating faculty held no confidence in Sexton. As of 2012, there are 2,579 full-time faculty members at NYU.

The major reasons for the votes of no confidence included disapproval of the NYU 2031 plan, the Global Network University and not enough faculty representation in the university governance.

Arguments in favor of Sexton included the prestigious faculty he has helped bring to NYU, the rise in NYU’s world ranking and the increasing popularity of NYU among graduating high school seniors.

The votes of no confidence are symbolic. They make a statement about the faculty’s opinion, but passing them can not force Sexton to resign. The Board of Trustees, which has the ultimate power to choose the president of the university, showed continuous support for Sexton after each of these votes.

This led a group of faculty members of the Faculty Against the Sexton Plan to write an open letter on July 16 requesting Lipton’s resignation, as they felt their concerns and lack of confidence in Sexton had been ignored.

The letter came shortly after a New York Times article revealed information about the university providing loans to faculty to purchase summer homes for faculty members, and after Lipton defended that loan policy in a letter to the New York Times.

Professor of social and cultural analysis Andrew Ross, who is also president of NYU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the news of the loan policy shocked members of the faculty.

“At a time when student debt at NYU is skyrocketing, it is plainly immoral and legally questionable, for student tuition monies to be used in this way,” Ross said.

Lipton said the loans for faculty housing, and even loans for second residences, do not have any impact on the cost of the university’s tuition. He also said 95 percent of the loans given to faculty are for primary residences.

“In a few cases there are loans for second homes, some may be summer homes, but they are all part of a program for recruiting, retaining and compensating faculty,” Lipton said. “It’s the only way we can compete to bring the important, highly regarded faculty to New York City where the cost of living is so high.”

Still, some professors, including Harrington, disagree with the policy entirely.

“There is no evidence that any of these people had outside offers,” Harrington said. “And there is no reason why second homes are being purchased for anybody.”

Law School faculty senator James Jacobs defended the loan policy, agreeing with Lipton that it contributed to recruiting and retaining faculty, and said the FASP letter is dishonorable.

“Marty Lipton has devoted a substantial part of his life and fortune to the betterment of NYU,” Jacobs said. “All faculty and students should be ashamed of the FASP letter calling for his resignation.”

NYU Provost David McLaughlin also wrote a response to the FASP letter, citing facts he says are misrepresented to diminish NYU’s accomplishments both in recruiting students and retaining quality faculty.

“It is particularly troublesome when factual misrepresentations diminish our University’s accomplishments, which not only devalues what our community is widely recognized as having accomplished but also jeopardizes our ability to continue our progress,” McLaughlin wrote.

The letter cited rising SAT scores and a stable admit rate in the mid-30s from 2002, when Sexton began his tenure, to 2013. It also addressed FASP’s concern with the rise in untenured faculty, citing the 12 percent rise in tenured and tenure-track faculty from 2002 to 2012.

Due to the drastic differences in the opinions of the state of shared governance at NYU, professors are not sure what will happen this fall.

CAS faculty senator Jim Uleman thinks that dissatisfaction with Sexton and Lipton remains high among faculty.

“Working with a president in whom we have no confidence, for the next 3 years, is not something we relish,” Uleman said. “So I expect the fall to bring more revelations in the media and in Congress, more press releases from NYU’s administration, and more attempts by the faculty to hammer out in practice the meaning of ‘shared governance’ with the administration and Board.”

Lipton hopes that the faculty, the administration and the board can work together and assures students that this conflict will not penalize them.

“The Board of Trustees and the administration have determined that this will not in any way interfere with the students’ education and the students’ enjoyment of their time at NYU,” Lipton said.

Nicole Brown is a news editor. Email her at nbrown@nyunews.com.

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