Dear NYU Expansion Critics: ‘Move to Sioux City!’

Will a sizable portion of the six million square feet planned for the next 25 years be in the Village?

If by sizable you mean, Is two-thirds of it going to be within a five-minute walk from the arch? It would startle me if it were two-thirds.

What about half?

I don’t know the answer to that. More than 20 percent? The answer is yes.

It’s very important that people in the community come forward with suggestions with how we might do it. At my town halls over the years I’ve invited some of the people who have criticized what NYU has done in the past to come forward with ideas. Take, for example, the site of the supermarket on LaGuardia and West 3rd Street. We have owned that site from before my presidency, and I’ve made it clear that we have to build on that site. People know the FAR that is available.

Do you know what it is?

I don’t offhand. I would assume it’s similar to the three buildings already there on the site. It’s a tall building. What would people propose we would do for that site? I’ve asked everybody from [City Council Member] Alan Gerson to Andrew Berman [executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation] and so forth to come forward with an idea; give us a plan.

I’ve been waiting four or five years for some of these people to come forward. It’s easier to say, Don’t build anything—which, of course, means don’t be the university that the city needs and that you want to be.

Is it frustrating that they’re not sympathetic to your needs?

My experience is that the vast majority of people are very bullish on NYU and view what we have done as miraculous. When viewed through the lens of academic institutions, we are not big space consumers. That’s reality and it’s objective. Does that mean we’ve been perfect? Anything but. Do we deserve criticism? I’m the leading critic.

You’re its biggest critic. So what mistakes have been made?

We’ve made mistakes of process and mistakes of planning.… And look, did we make mistakes of taste? That’s inherently subjective.

What’s your opinion?

My opinion? People don’t generally equate the word “taste” with the guy as so common as I am.

But still: your opinion?

Why do you want to try to get me to criticize people who came before me who did a wonderful job of building this university? I mean, David Kirp, the Berkeley expert on higher education, says that NYU is the—he italicized the word “the”—success story of contemporary American higher education. And he wouldn’t have talked about Sexton’s relay race.

They did a lot of things great, O.K.? Did they do all their buildings to my usually unreliable taste? No, they didn’t do it all in the right taste. Could they have done better? There’s no question about it.