This article appeared in Mint Press News
This architect’s rendering provided by New York University (NYU) on Wednesday, July 11, 2012, outlines proposed plans for new facilities. (AP Photo/New York University)
By Trisha Marczak
(MintPress) – Not even a liberal arts university is free from the fight between the 99 and 1 percent.
NYU’s Greenwich village campus is set to undergo a few changes — $6 billion worth of changes that would trample the community’s two acres of green space and wipe out entire housing units in an already crowded neighborhood. And while it may seem like progress is being made, the majority of faculty are calling out the university’s Board of Directors for choosing profit over student success.
The university’s faculty have more than a few grievances with the 20-year construction project. Not only would it deter many from continuing their career at NYU, but it would also, from their viewpoint, keep students away. And when the project is all said and done, it would be the student population responsible for carrying the cost.
Yet even that laundry list doesn’t include the main concern of campus faculty — the very people who sit on the Board of Trustees who voted to approve the project have their hands in the real estate market known for its perpetuation of the hyper construction of New York City.
Impact on students, faculty
NYU is already regarded as one of the nation’s most expensive schools. Add to that a lack of financial aid resources for lower- to middle-class students, and NYU has itself a formula resulting in mountains of debt for graduating seniors.
Newsweek Magazine ranked NYU the fourth most expensive university in the nation, with an average graduate debt of $41,300 and a total price tag of $58,858. The new facility would, undoubtedly, only escalate the situation, with the administration looking, in part, to student funds to make up for the difference.
Mark Crispin Miller is a professor of media studies at NYU and a leader of the movement opposed to the construction project, not only as a resident of New York, but also as an educator at the university.
“Many of our best students are poor and middle class, and they’re not going to be able to go here — it’s as simple as that,” Miller said in an interview with MintPress.
Class sizes at the moment are at a professor-student ratio of 1-33 — that’s compared to Yale with a ratio of 1-12 and Harvard with a ratio of 1-14. And according to Miller, the construction project would only make that situation worse, not any better.
The high price tag of the project can only come from one location — NYU’s only source of revenue is tuition. So, in the end, it will fall on the back of students and, according to Miller, undermine the value of education at NYU. It could also result in fewer students choosing NYU as the place to drop tens of thousands on their education.
“There are fears, quite legitimately, that the project could be a budget buster,” Miller said. “NYU is already cutting costs quite ruthlessly at every level, cutting back on financial aid to students and freezing salaries and slashing benefits.”
Miller and other faculty members acknowledge that space is needed to move forward. Because of this, they have developed alternative plans that have been submitted to the Board of Trustees. From Miller’s end, the plans cover the bases NYU President John Sexton says are necessary. But it doesn’t really matter — the construction project is moving forward, regardless.
The letter sent to the board states faculty’s concern with the construction project, along with the alternative plan. In response, Martin Lipton, chair of the board, penned a letter back, in which he essentially said the project is moving forward, with or without widespread faculty support.
“I can assure you that the University will not proceed with any project unless we are certain it is in the University’s interest and is financially sound,” Lipton wrote. “The Board is, as you note, filled with people at the top of their professions; I can similarly assure you that my fellow trustees and I take very seriously our personal responsibilities and our legal obligations as the University’s fiduciaries to ensure NYU financial health.”
In the same letter written to the board, faculty members indicate their disapproval with the project, highlighting that a Faculty Senate Council survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of faculty were opposed to the plan.
“Never before have so many departments at NYU joined together to express their grave concern at the proposed direction that our University is taking,” the letter states. “We feel that such overwhelming opposition from the faculty should be taken seriously by those responsible for overseeing the University and ensuring its fiscal and academic health, and we respectfully request that we be given the opportunity to meet with you to discuss our concerns.”
To the dismay of Miller and the majority of faculty, their opposition didn’t matter. On July 25, the local city council approved the project, despite the objections by professors, neighbors and students.
Impact on community
There are a number of fronts to this battle. As faculty stand firm in their assertion that the expansion is unnecessary, they also stand in solidarity with those who stand to lose their homes from the building project.
“Forty percent of full-time faculty live on the two blocks where these four buildings would go,” Miller said, “so they share with NYU’s neighbors.”
In an already crammed city, the project would only add more to the issue. With parcels of land divided and approved for commercial projects, it opens the door for not only the NYU project, but also other real estate endeavors for New York’s top movers and shakers.
In a move to show opposition to the project, professors, community members and activists compiled their thoughts into a book, titled, “While We Were Sleeping: NYU and the Destruction of New York.” The contents of its pages include themes associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, pointing out that the NYU building project on the table does little for students, while lining the pockets and setting up real estate moguls with a market to their liking.
The NYU Board of Trustees is not a conglomerate of educators, but business people in the real estate and student loan sectors.
William C. Rudin is one such board member. As president of Rudin Management Company, Inc., he’s quite familiar with the business climate surrounding the real estate market. In fact, he runs one of the city’s largest real estate companies — one that specializes on leasing and managing commercial outfits.
Lisa Silverstein is another member of the board, and senior vice president of Silverstein Properties, which shares in the prestige as one of the city’s most well-known real estate companies.
“The fact is that in terms of real estate calculation, it looks like a smart thing to do,” Miller said. “I don’t believe the Board of Trustees gets the fact that they are responsible for a university’s well being.
“We’re not simply fighting for this part of the village,” Miller added. “We want to draw a line here against all such projects, citywide, because New Yorkers are fed up with Michael Bloomberg’s image of this town as a ‘luxury city.’”
Another member of the board is Catherine Reynolds. Higher Ed Watch has done extensive coverage into Reynolds and her “Loan to Learn” nonprofit, which has been accused of using marketing material to encourage students to opt out of the lower interest rate federal financial aid program in favor of private loans — a product she delivers.
In 2006, Higher Ed Watch released a report showing Reynolds’ and her organization’s move to pay financial aid officers’ way to Caribbean getaways, in exchange for time needed to pitch Loan to Learn’s offers.
Yet not even questions surrounding the ethics of board members and their decisions are making any headway in New York. Attempts by faculty to at least receive a copy of the proposed building plan, with specifics included, have been unsuccessful.
The very people who make the university tick are being kept out of a decision board members and Sexton claim is best for the students. If that’s really the case, wouldn’t they want the input of the people who actually dedicate their lives to education? Apparently not.