New York University Becomes a Global Network University

By Connell, Christopher | International Educator, January/February 2012 | Go to article overview

New York University Becomes a Global Network University


Connell, Christopher, International Educator


NEW YORK UNIVERSITY'S prodigious number of international students (7,200) and participation in education abroad (4,300) have long solidified its place among the most international U.S. universities. Now it has laid claim to the title of the world's first "global network university' with a new liberal arts college open in Abu Dhabi, a second in the works for Shanghai, and nearly a dozen other sites around the world where NYU students go to study. Most of its 43,000 students still throng the buildings with their signature violet flags that surround Washington Square. Amending the 1831 pronouncement by Albert Gallatin and other founders that they were creating a university "in and of the city' President John Sexton describes todays NYU as "in and of the world."

Sexton, seated in his office atop red sandstone Bobst Library with a red-tailed hawk nesting outside his window, said the concept of the global network university is still evolving, but like a Polaroid picture becoming clearer over time. It is not, he emphasized, merely a hub-and-spoke arrangement or set of affiliated branches. "We see the university as an organism, a circulatory system" for faculty and students to move between continents for learning and research, Sexton said. He recalled a conversation over breakfast at Chequers with then Chancellor of the Exchequer of Britain Gordon Brown, who remarked that NYU s ambitious conception brought to mind the Italian Renaissance "and the way the talent class moved among Milan and Venice and Florence and Rome." That captures in a nutshell "the world view in which we see ourselves operating," said Sexton.

The peripatetic Sexton had just returned from a 12-day journey to Abu Dhabi, Singapore, South Korea, and Abu Dhabi again. A Brooklyn native, Sexton was schooled by the Jesuits at Fordham University to be a professor of religion, then retooled at Harvard Law School as a legal scholar. He has played a multitude of parts-champion high school debate coach, clerk to the Chief Justice of the United States, law school dean, and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He is wont to quote Teilhard de Chardin, Martin Buber, Diogenes ("I am a citizen of the world"), and Charley Winans, his mentor and faculty legend at Brooklyn Prep.

Seeking an Edge in Global Talent Competition

Sexton believes NYU has gained an edge in a global competition for talent, such as the prominent economist it landed by offering to let him teach every fourth year in Abu Dhabi, closer to his wife's family in Pakistan. He can envision the future Shanghai campus luring a world-class mathematician with aging parents in China. Already Sexton and Alfred Bloom, vice chancellor for NYU Abu Dhabi, boast of creating "the worlds honors college" in the Middle East emirate. NYU and its Abu Dhabi patron flew several hundred high school seniors to tire emirate for weekend visits before admitting the first class of 149, one-third American. The median SAT verbal and math scores were 1470. NYU Abu Dhabi in May awarded $16 million over five years for four joint-faculty research projects that will be based in Abu Dhabi and deal with climate modeling, computer security and privacy, cloud computing, and computational physics. Sexton has promised that all of NYU's overseas operations will be self-sustaining and won't siphon resources from Washington Square.

Vice Provost for Globalization and Multicultural Affairs Ulrich Baer presides over NYU's 10 global academic centers for education abroad in Accra, Ghana; Berlin, Germany; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Florence, Italy; London, England; Madrid, Spain; Paris, France; Prague, Czech Republic; Shanghai, China, and Tel Aviv, Israel. Two sites are planned for Sydney, Australia, and Washington, DC, and Sexton expects to open two more in South America and South Asia. With Abu DhabiWashington Square students will be able to spend a semester there- NYU s global network will feature at least 16 sites by 2014.

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