Ivory Sours: Late to Class, NYU Professors Fail at Blocking So-Called Sexton Plan, Hope for Extra Credit

Quite a few community board members have complained privately that they wish the faculty had been more publicly involved in the fight. “They make a strong case against this plan, one that could really sway public opinion,” one board member said. “I just wish they had made it a year or two ago.”

The NYU administration deserves a good deal of credit for pacifying the faculty, though reportedly not in good faith. “They would hold these little open houses and say, ‘Oh, this is years away,’” Mr. Crispin Miller said. “When we would confront other faculty about it, they said the same thing. ‘I don’t have to worry about that.’ One of the smartest things NYU ever did was spruce up the gardens and buy a new jungle gym, after years of neglect, as if to say, ‘Look, why would we buy this new jungle gym if we were going to tear it down tomorrow?’”

Barbara Weinstein, one of the university’s distinguished Silver Professors, argues it is wrong to pass judgment on the faculty for its timing. “As with most issues, large numbers of people only got mobilized when specific decisions were looming in the near future,” she said. “How much are you doing to prevent global warming, which threatens life as we know it? I’m guessing not a whole helluva lot, even though the threat is massively greater than that of NYU 2031.”

As with any radical debate taking place, there is far from unanimity of opinion. “I am not opposed to it, nor do I view it as my job to defend it,” one Stern finance professor said, lauding the school’s “careful thought about how to achieve it within the constraints of our urban environment.”

Mitchell Moss, the outspoken urban planning professor and a supporter of the expansion, believes the fight is purely political. “You have a number of faculty who relish getting into political fights,” he said. “For them, this is just an extension of their time in graduate school, in Berkeley or Cambridge. For a lot of faculty members, it’s a necessary distraction from the burden of writing and teaching.”

And there is some truth to that. Animosity against President Sexton has been stirring since his appointment—some faculty wanted an outsider—and has only intensified as he has expanded the student body and the university’s footprint. A number of professors said they foresee a no-confidence vote in the future, and Mr. Crispin Miller made similar overtures toward Ms. Quinn and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, in whose district the project falls. “There is real talk in the community of a recall,” he warned.

The faculty already has Gibson Dunn on retainer and is preparing a lawsuit challenging the expansion once it is approved. (It cannot be challenged in court until that time, but such efforts have a track record of failure.)

Ms. Chin said the failure of the professors had as much to do with intractability as anything. “They had a very strong position pretty much opposing this, they didn’t want any compromise,” she said. “They just wanted a no, and it was hard to explain to them how we had to work things out with NYU.

They did not seem to understand the process.”

The views from the ivory tower are pretty good, until some wants to build something bigger next door.