UPDATE: The City Council voted 44-1 to approve NYU’s expansion plans. Opponents of the plan have said they will likely challenge the land-use review process in court.
New York University’s plan to expand the college in order to grow and stay competitive may require hiring a new team in the coming years. If the plan gets approved on Wednesday by the City Council, many distinguished faculty members have indicated they’ll leave.
“Already I’m starting to hear from colleagues who are seeking bids from other universities. They tell me that they have to do it. They just can’t imagine subjecting their kids to this sort of ordeal,” said Jan Blustein, Ph.D. professor of Health Policy and Medicine at the university.
Patrick Deer, associate professor of English at the university, explains the “sort of ordeal” that the students will have to go through is having their wallets emptied by the financial burden of the expansion. With New York University’s small endowment, 75 percent of university expenses is met by student tuition. Taking on a project this large and costly will likely hike up the price of education there.
According to Deer, if professors leave because of the expansion, it will be difficult to get the best students, the students who could come won’t be able to afford it, and there will be pressure to accept more students, which in turn would lower admission standards and reduce the value of an NYU degree.
But the university points out that while people do disagree with the construction, they agree the expansion is needed because the university needs more space in order to be a stronger, better school, one that has more academic programs available and caters to a larger student body.
“Even opponents of our plan routinely acknowledge NYU’s need for space; they just want it to be created elsewhere,” said Philip Lentz, director of Public Affairs for the university.
However, a group made up of 400 faculty members called the NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (NYUFASP) doesn’t agree with the need for space. They say they are against the Sexton Plan, which refers to the university’s president, John Sexton. Their word choice for the plan reflects their belief that it would be wrong to say they were against the NYU plan, since the faculty believes they are the ones who make up NYU.
“This plan doesn’t represent all of NYU,” said Deer, “the faculty and students are the heart of the NYU education, we like to feel like we are NYU too, yet we weren’t even consulted, the administration is not listening to us and I worry about the future of NYU.”
Deer believes that since faculty are the ones actually using the academic spaces, they have more insight on what the school does and does not need. The website of NYUFASP states that 37 NYU departments have passed resolutions against the Sexton Plan as of July 19.
Originally the plan was to expand the Greenwich Village campus by nearly 2.5 million square feet, but before a City Council committee meeting last week, university officials made last-minute modifications that reduced the original size by over a fifth, to 1.9 million square feet.
“The modifications include an overall reduction in density, funding from NYU to maintain both the public and private open space on the blocks, improvements over the next year to existing open spaces, a provision for community facility spaces throughout the sites, and a commitment to MWLBE goals,” said Alicia Hurley, NYU vice president for government affairs and community engagement, in a press release.
With the newly adapted plan, the New York City Council’s Land Use Committee and zoning subcommittee gave the university its approval on Tuesday, July 17, but others remain unconvinced.
“It’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to happen,” said Blustein. “The administration has not made a convincing case that we lack adequate space in the core to meet our real academic needs in the foreseeable future.”
The NYUFASP however feel they do make a convincing case to meet the academic needs. It is called Room for Everyone: NYU Faculty Green Alternative to “2031.” In it, they make a compelling argument that says you don’t need massive construction to remain competitive. While they say the administration is concerned with making the university a global network university, the focus should be a local network university. It is what makes NYU different.
The Green Alternative outlines “smart growth strategies” by calling for the refurbishment and repurposing of existing buildings.
If the plan is approved by the full City Council, 40 percent of the university’s faculty will be forced to live aside the drone of demolition and construction for two decades. Deer, who lives in the neighborhood and has two-year-old twins, worries about the type of toxins and pollution his kids will have to breathe in. They will be 23 by the time construction is over.
The faculty isn’t ready to give up so easily. They are prepared to take legal actions if it comes down to it.
“We’re represented by Gibson Dunn (law firm), who also represent Greenwich Village Historical Preservation Society,” said Blustein. “Gibson Dunn have fought very effectively against this sort of overdevelopment in the past. I don’t know what they have planned, but I have confidence in their ability to do the job.”