N.Y.U. President John Sexton: ‘We Need More Space’

IMG_3105Natalie Rinn John Sexton addresses a student.

John Sexton, the president of N.Y.U., addressed questions about the school’s considerable expansion plan at a Town Hall meeting earlier tonight. At the open forum for students, Dr. Sexton addressed a recent outpouring of community opposition, as demonstrated by a unanimous vote by Community Board 2 on Thursday disapproving of the proposed expansion near Washington Square Park.

“The community board vote did not surprise me,” he said, standing before a room filled with undergraduate and graduate students at the university’s Kimball Hall. “It would have been surprising if there had been a single dissent.”

He added, “You learn that there are a small minority of people that you can’t reach. They’ve gotta be what they are and they’re not going to be persuaded right or wrong.”

A recent Ph.D. graduate in comparative literature, Patrick Gallagher, pressed the president on being insensitive. “It sounds like what you’re saying is the community is always wrong. Has there ever been a time when you’ve come around to their point of view?”

“First of all, respectfully, I don’t think I said the community is always wrong,” Mr. Sexton responded. “The dialogue with the community has been fulsome for three years and 40 [community] meetings, and we’ve made changes in the plan based on things that were said.”

IMG_3080Natalie Rinn

The president also offered more concrete reasoning for the ambitious plan: a desperate need for more space. “I think that we have 140 square feet per person in our community or per student, and Columbia, which is beginning expansion, has almost twice. We feel that crampiness.”

Dr. Sexton explained that when he took office a decade ago, transition groups put a premium on creating more space. “It’s very interesting to note that in terms of fulfilling that mission of the transition report, we’ve been expanding space here at N.Y.U. over the last 10 years,” he noted. The effort, he said, has totaled 293,000 square feet per year. “Take that over 20 years, that’s six million square feet,” he continued, referring to a number equal to that in the school’s present expansion plan. “We think, ‘My god, [the N.Y.U. 2031 plan is] six million square feet.’ Well, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing!”

The president also responded to fears by one undergraduate, who asked if the plan was “fiscally responsible” in light of the project’s uncertain yet exorbitant price tag, and the university’s already steep tuition.

“A massive amount of what we’ve done and what we will do is student residences,” said Dr. Sexton, claiming that the form of infrastructure pays for itself via student rent. He also said that the university would save millions by expanding on property that it already owns, with construction costs at an all-time low.

In response to fears of a “20-year construction zone,” Dr. Sexton said no one tenant on the targeted land would be affected for more than 15 to 18 months. “You could really help me if you go out as Paul Reveres and say Plan 2031 is not a 20-year construction project,” he said. “It is an expansion of six million square feet throughout the city over a 20-year period. But there is not going to be a site which is a construction site for 20 years, and only a third is going to happen in Greenwich Village.”

“Unless we’re prepared to say this university is as good as it will ever be,” he said, “we need more space because there are going to be more disciplines [in the future] and we need housing for more students and more faculty.”

Earlier: (A Few) Protesters Picket Town Hall With N.Y.U. President