Faculty of Arts and Science: No Confidence in N.Y.U. President

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

N.Y.U.’s Faculty of Arts and Science has issued a vote of no confidence in the university’s president, John Sexton.

The vote was met immediately with a statement from N.Y.U.’s board of trustees, reprinted below, indicating that it “strongly supports President Sexton, and believes in his strategic direction for the University.”

Mr. Sexton followed the board’s statement, which praised him as a “nationally recognized innovator,” with his own e-mail citing recent “expressions of support – from the Medical School, from the Nursing School, from the Dental School, from the Deans of all the schools, as well today’s email to the NYU community from the Trustees – and now this expression of dissatisfaction from FAS.”

Mr. Sexton’s letter, also reprinted below, acknowledged that “faculty must be at the center of the academic endeavor and involved in the decision-making. We have taken some important steps in that direction and, particularly with this vote in mind, that effort will continue.”

According to The Times, 83 percent of the school’s full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty participated in the electronic balloting, which ended in a 298 to 224 vote. The university’s chapter of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Technical Staff will also hold a no-confidence vote, The Times reported.

The vote is the culmination of much back and forth between Mr. Sexton and faculty members regarding N.Y.U.’s controversial expansion plan and, more recently, big-ticket severance packages for star hires.

FROM: Martin Lipton, Chair, NYU Board of Trustees
RE: A Message from the Board of Trustees in Response to the FAS Vote

The Board of Trustees unanimously and strongly supports President John Sexton, and believes in his strategic direction for the University.

In a time of great challenges to higher education, John Sexton has become a nationally recognized innovator while, at the same time, maintaining excellence.  It is clear to us that NYU is a great success story.  It is also the case that higher education faces pressures that call for leadership that can enact change where needed, and that is why the Board has passed a resolution strongly affirming our support of John and NYU’s current course (below).

The Trustees see the fruits of effective leadership by John Sexton, and they bear repeating:  We have seen a strong, thriving, advancing university during his tenure as president. We note a 12% increase in applications for freshman admission in this year, the sixth straight year of record applications.  We note the College Board’s findings that NYU was at the very top of its list of most-searched-for universities.  We see the improvement in the academic qualifications of entering freshmen during John’s presidency, the increase in retention and graduation rates, and the expansion of financial aid.  We observe and are enormously proud that the Times Higher Education magazine, in its recently released global rankings, took particular note of NYU’s swift rise, and the very significant improvements in other rankings as well. We see a very successful record of fundraising– essentially $1 million per day, day-in-and-day-out since John Sexton became president. We note improvements in the finances, in the budgeting, and in the physical facilities of the University over the last 10 years, as well as the successful handling of the de-merging of Mt. Sinai’s and NYU’s medical centers, and the dramatic turnaround at the NYU Langone Medical Center. We see the increase in tenured and tenure-track faculty, particularly in the arts and sciences, and a marked improvement of our ability to attract top scholars. We observe that during John Sexton’s presidency, two tenured faculty members have won the Nobel Prize, a third Nobel-winner has been recruited, three mathematicians have won the Abel Prize, and the first NYU student in many years won a Rhodes Scholarship, among many other prestigious honors to faculty and students. We note the opening of NYU’s first new science building in over 20 years, and the return of engineering to NYU. We see — by dint of his role in important educational organizations and commissions — that John Sexton is clearly considered a leader in the field of higher education. We believe that the global network created during his presidency has offered new academic opportunities to faculty and students (twice as many of whom study abroad as did 10 years ago), distinguished NYU among U.S. universities, and attracted the commitment and support of sophisticated partners.  And we note that all this has occurred while John continues to teach undergraduates every semester.

To be sure, we are attentive to the vote by arts and science faculty, and conscious of what it says about sentiment in that school.  But we also take note of the vote of support by the Medical School faculty council; the letters of support for John from department chairs at the School of Medicine, the College of Dentistry, and the College of Nursing; the letter of support from the Alumni Association’s officers; the support for John’s leadership among the University’s deans; the popularity John enjoys among students; and the many affirmations we hear about John’s leadership from those outside the NYU community.

The vote – although supported by fewer than half the tenured faculty in FAS –  is a disappointing outcome, in part because it does not seem to take account of NYU’s progress over the last decade, in part because it does not take heed of the major challenges U.S. higher education faces now, and in part because FAS has been the beneficiary of significant investment during John’s time, which led to manifest improvements for that school in terms of the recruitment of new faculty, the establishment of new areas of inquiry, and the creation of new facilities.

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.   And we agree that the time has come to consider ways in which that voice may be made even more meaningful.  Thus, as President Sexton has urged us to do, we will embark upon a conversation about how to do this.  Over the next two months, a committee of the Board consisting of the chair and the six vice chairs will meet with various stakeholders in the NYU community  to listen and to seek the best way forward in the evolution of the University’s governance — both University-wide and within schools —   enabling NYU to act decisively in a challenging higher education environment while also taking account of and benefitting from the input and involvement of all its constituencies, particularly the faculty.

NYU’s progress over the course of the last three decades has been enormous, but there is much to be done, both in meeting our aspirations and in addressing the challenges that are emerging in higher education.  It is the Trustees’ hope that we commit ourselves as a university community to finding ways to move forward productively and collaboratively.



Whereas: It is the duty of the Board of Trustees, taking account of the views of all stakeholders, to safeguard the immediate and the long term interests of the university and to consider the overall direction of the University.

Whereas: This responsibility includes the advancement of the University’s reputation, its progress in rankings, the expansion and achievements of the faculty, the progress of the research and educational missions, its admissions data, the stability of its finances and successes of its fundraising, and its response to broad societal forces affecting higher education.

Whereas:  In all these categories, the Trustees of NYU see a record of superb  accomplishment in the last 11 years under John Sexton, putting NYU in the top tier of major urban and global research universities.

Whereas: The Deans of NYU’s schools have also signaled their support, composing a letter that states:  “ . . . the unique character, style, charisma, and intimacy of John Sexton’s leadership must be acknowledged and applauded.  His cheerfulness, informality, and affection for students and colleagues . . . have inspired faculty and animated students.  He has established a standard of collegiality that fosters our ability to work together;  . . .Few, if any, university presidents could have taken NYU to the preeminence it enjoys today.  None possess such an original and promising vision of higher education’s future or such a clear plan for making that future a reality.”

Whereas: The Board has periodically reviewed and strongly endorsed the strategic framework for both academic priorities and the physical space to advance those priorities.

Whereas:  In particular, the Global Network University has proven to be a transformative model that is both responsive to forces reshaping higher education and the university’s own history and circumstances. The Board sees the GNU as a strategy that will provide new and unique learning, teaching and research opportunities to students and faculty and will sustain the academic momentum that has so transformed NYU over recent decades.

Whereas: John Sexton and his team have made energetic efforts and significant progress in strengthening and improving faculty consultation, establishing a faculty committee to give guidance on space priorities and implementation of the recent city- approved expansion, and agreeing to a set of principles with the Faculty Senators Council – agreed to by this Board – regarding shared governance.

Resolved: We, the Board of Trustees, endorses the strategic direction of New York University and John Sexton’s stewardship. The transformation of NYU from a strong regional university into a university that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s most revered universities is a remarkable accomplishment that is a testament to the dedication of the deans and the faculty under the outstanding leadership of John Sexton. 


FROM: John Sexton

RE: The Outcome of the FAS Vote of No Confidence

I have spent the majority of my professional life at NYU. In those three decades, I have been animated by a single purpose – to serve my institution well, and to try to improve it. Through a collective effort involving trustees, alumni, University leadership, and faculty, we have during the past 30 years transformed NYU from a decent regional university into an international research university that stands among the top institutions in the world. This stands as a great collective accomplishment.

Now we are in a time of tremendous pressure on higher education, and my goal is to sustain that academic momentum while adapting NYU to a dramatically changing environment. Over the past several months, there has been vigorous debate about NYU’s direction, resulting in both expressions of support – from the Medical School, from the Nursing School, from the Dental School, from the Deans of all the schools, as well today’s email to the NYU community from the Trustees – and now this expression of dissatisfaction from FAS.

In the university setting, we believe in debate and criticism; it helps us improve. That will be particularly important in the months and years ahead, because we are at a moment that compels meaningful change in higher education.

It is also the case that faculty must be at the center of the academic endeavor and involved in the decision-making. We have taken some important steps in that direction and, particularly with this vote in mind, that effort will continue. I look forward to working with the faculty to maintain NYU’s academic trajectory and prepare for the challenges ahead.

Correction, March 16, 2013: This post was revised to correct an error. The original version referred imprecisely to the entity that voted. It is the Faculty of Arts and Science, not the faculty of the College of Arts and Science.