Last Thursday, as has happened every day for going on a century, a couple middle-aged intellectuals gathered around a table in Greenwich Village to discuss the news of the day, which, as has happened every day for going on a century, did not suit them.
“They act like it’s a no-brainer,” Mark Crispin Miller explained of the acquaintances he had made in recent months in his quest to stand up to his employer and landlord, New York University. Just two days prior, a committee of the City Council, part of the monolithic “they” Mr. Crispin Miller was railing against, approved the university’s 2 million-square-foot expansion plan, which would plant four sizable buildings just across the street.
“‘Of course it’s going through,’ they tell you,” he said with disgust. “‘She’s running for mayor, she needs the support of the real estate industry, you moron.’” She would be Christine Quinn, Speaker of the City Council, without whose blessing almost nothing happens there. Her district also happens to be just around the corner, giving her added incentive to take an interest in, and credit for, the project.
“This is a no-bullshit city,” Patrick Deer interjected with his British crack. “Even if we see something’s off from across the street, we’ll barge in and do something about it. There’s an innate sense of justice. Or so I thought. I know there was when I got here.” Mr. Deer has been at NYU since 2002, teaching English.
“It’s amoral, like Mitt Romney,” added Bo Ricobono, an adjunct education professor and Soho lifer active on the community board, which unanimously opposed the expansion.
“You mean immoral,” Mr. Crispin Miller said.
“Not immoral, amoral,” Mr. Ricobono continued. “He has to do what he has to do. In that context, in finance, that’s fine. Well, it’s not fine, but it makes sense, you know what I mean? But in this context, in a public project and a public process, it’s just wrong.”
“You purport to act morally,” Mr. Crispin Miller said, looking up from his empty water glass, toward the ceiling. “That’s what Machiavelli said.”
They were sitting inside the Silver Spurs at the corner of Houston Street and LaGuardia Place, having finished a meal of burgers, the restaurant’s greasy specialty. They had hoped to go to Bruno Bakery for some lighter fare, but it had been overtaken by Spanish tourists—yet another affront.
“I love this university. This was my dream job, and we’re just trying to save the university from itself,” Mr. Deer said.
But really, the argument was academic. Like a student blithely ignoring the class syllabus, the NYU faculty opposed to the plan had left their all work for the very last minute. It had been a convincing argument, the kind that might have swayed the public had it been delivered earlier. But politicians and city planners do not grade on a bell curve. At best, the faculty had gotten a C-, a few concessions and little else.