Skyscraper's the Limit for Furious NYU Academics

By Wylie, Ian | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, November 15, 2012 | Go to article overview

Skyscraper's the Limit for Furious NYU Academics


Wylie, Ian, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


University plans to expand in Greenwich Village have sparked a grass- roots revolt, finds Ian Wylie.

Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media, culture and communication at New York University Steinhardt, is warming to his role as MC for the evening. "I hope you're all enjoying the music," he calls out to his rowdy basement audience at the Poisson Rouge club in New York's Greenwich Village. "Because if NYU has its way, the music will stop."

Miller is de facto leader of the opposition to "NYU 2031" - New York University's mooted redevelopment of its core campus in Greenwich Village that has united disgruntled members of faculty and residents of this bohemian neighbourhood, which was a powder keg of protest in the 1960s.

City planners have sanctioned the expansion but this evening's benefit concert is raising funds for a legal challenge. Musicians John Zorn, Thurston Moore and Gary Lucas are on the bill. Celebrity residents Susan Sarandon, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker have pledged support, too.

"NYU has so much clout in this city but the fact that we are NYU faculty might get us a hearing in court," Miller says.

"It's easy to dismiss Village opposition as Nimby and cranky... but not faculty."

This is a very local dispute but may resonate with academics elsewhere in the US, uneasy about the expansionary paths taken by their universities.

By 2031, NYU's bicentennial, the university wants to add 6 million sq ft, spread around Brooklyn, Gramercy and Greenwich Village.

The largest private university in the US with around 43,000 students, NYU will squeeze an extra 1.9 million sq ft into its Village campus by way of three high-rise buildings including a 1 million sq ft zipper-shaped building, as well as below-ground development.

The "zipper" building, for example, will conceal an underground auditorium for the university's Institute of Performing Arts, plus gym, classrooms and accommodation for students and academics.

The building work will be completed in two phases but Miller, who says that about 40 per cent of faculty members and their families live on the Greenwich Village campus, claims that it will be like living on a construction site for two decades.

"I live in one of the buildings and have a son with asthma, so we can't live that way, with 20 years of continuous demolition and construction. I'll have to leave. I don't think any professors can live that way," he says.

Sexton and the city

Miller, whose research interests include modern propaganda, prefers to dub NYU 2031 the "Sexton Plan" after the university's president John Sexton. "It's important that people know not everyone at NYU is signed up to this," Miller says.

Campaigners from the NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan have secured the support of 37 university departments, including the Stern School of Business and the economics department, as well as endorsement from big- name academics including Zadie Smith, Richard Sennett and Nobel laureate Tom Sargent.

In a survey conducted by the Faculty Senators Council, 64 per cent of those faculty members who responded were opposed to the project.

"No one has seen a business plan for it, which makes people nervous at a time when the university has been cutting benefits and freezing salaries," Miller says. "This is a multibillion-dollar project that could bankrupt the university. …

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