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Is NYU's President acting too much like a corporate CEO?

NYU President John Sexton speaks during a press conference to announce the World Science Festival at NYU on April 2, 2008 in New York City.

The president of New York University is facing a “no confidence” vote this week. Faculty at NYU’s College of Arts and Science -- its biggest school -- have until Friday to weigh in on president John Sexton’s job performance.

In his 11 years at the helm, Sexton has led an aggressive push for new campuses around the globe, along with a big expansion at home in New York’s Greenwich Village. And, according to lots of faculty members, he has done it without much input from them.

“It’s a very common complaint among faculty nationwide,” says Andrew Ross, professor of social and cultural analysis at NYU, “that there has been an erosion of shared governance -- that the faculty are more and more neglected or simply treated as managed employees.”

“Whenever there’s tension around the finances and the future of an institution, that’s when the stakes become [higher],” says Peter Eckel, vice president for governance and leadership programs at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

No-confidence votes have helped push presidents out (see Larry Summers at Harvard), but they’re mostly symbolic. 

They can even backfire if the president has the support of the board of trustees, says Stephen Nelson, associate professor of educational leadership at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

“The wagons get circled by the trustees around the president, and that actually can then end up making the president’s position more secure after a no-confidence vote than before,” Nelson says.

NYU’s board is backing John Sexton. In a statement Sexton said whatever the outcome of the vote, criticism “makes us better.”

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.
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