University presidents have some of the most prestigious positions in academia. With that comes immense responsibility and the ability to change the face of higher education. John Sexton, president of New York University, was named one of the “10 Best University Presidents in America” by Time magazine in 2009. However, he has recently come under fire by his own faculty for running the school like a corporation instead of an educational institution. He has been accused of bypassing the faculty board when making decisions that affect the entire academic body. Transparency is a huge issue for any large-scale organization, including our own University. University President Mary Sue Coleman is set to leave office in 2014, and with the continued controversy over the role of a university president, the University needs to take NYU’s situation into account when choosing its next leader.
Sexton has been an integral part of NYU’s campus expansion to Greenwich Village, a reform to which many faculty have objected. More broadly, the faculty dislikes Sexton’s inconsideration for dissenting opinions and unwillingness to include the faculty on important university decisions. The problem goes beyond Sexton’s lack of leadership qualities. Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media, culture and communication in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, said, “We see NYU as a school; we see our mission as educational. Sexton and the trustees who support him view NYU as a bundle of assets whose value they will apparently do anything to maximize on paper. We believe that this approach is destroying this university.” This problem is not unique to NYU. Universities across the country have been accused of a lack of transparency and a business-like mentality toward running their respective universities. This is a trend we should be wary of, especially when choosing the next leader of our school.
Communication between the University faculty and administrators has been under scrutiny in the past year. When expanding the Big Ten to include the University of Maryland and Rutgers University, University Athletic Director Dave Brandon failed to consult the Advisory Board on Intercollegiate Athletics before making his decision. Instead, he simply informed the board of the result. This decision affected the game schedules of student athletes by increasing travel time, thus increasing the strain on student athletes as they spend more time out of the classroom. This expansion may bolster the Big Ten’s profits at the expense of the University faculty’s main goal of educating students, athlete or otherwise.
The new president should be an essential part of completing the University’s main goal of educational improvement. Transparency is central to this improvement. The regents had one fewer public meeting this year because of a trip they took to California. They also have a rope and security surrounding them at public meetings, separating them from the public. University presidents should not be insular and be committed to academia, not corporations.
A new University president will generate change throughout campus, good or bad. However, we need to ensure that these changes translate into substantial educational and administrative improvements. NYU has demonstrated that there has been a shift in higher education goals that resemble those of a profit-maximizing company. Our future president, and presidents at all universities, should focus on educating students.