NYU Expansion Plan Could Bankrupt School, Professors Say

Professors railed against NYU’s proposed expansion plan Wednesday, saying faculty members fear the ambitious Greenwich Village project that will be go before the City Council next month could bankrupt the university.

Speaking on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show on Wednesday, faculty members said the plan to add more than two million square feet is too costly, has a murky agenda and would turn the neighborhood – where many faculty live – into a construction zone for decades.

“A critical mass of its faculty believe that this plan will bankrupt the university,” said Andrew Ross, professor of social and cultural analysis at NYU.

NYU hasn’t named a total cost figure, though outsiders estimate it to be in the billions. After construction, the new facilities will also be costly to be maintained. Experts say that will likely mean passing the buck to students.

“Every tuition dollar would have to go into servicing the debt each year,” said Ann Pellegrini, professor of performance studies and religious studies.

Town-and-gown disputes are de rigueur between the community and the sprawling university dating back to the 1800s. What’s different this time, is that an increasing number of NYU faculty and staff are joining with residents to oppose the school’s plan.

About two-thirds of NYU professors who responded to a Faculty Senators Council survey (PDF) in April said they weren’t in favor of the administration’s plan to add two million-square feet of new classrooms, offices and residences to its Greenwich Village campus.

“We are NYU. We are loyal faculty members of NYU,” Pellegrini said. “We’re dedicated to the institution. We’re opposed to the plan, not to NYU.”

In an interview with WNYC earlier this month, university president John Sexton said expansion is necessary for the university’s future. He also said he has “amazing” support for the plan internally.

“The people who make decisions for the university, the Board of Trustees, all are unanimous and enthusiastic about the plan,” he said.

But the plan, faculty members said, isn’t about space. The original plan called for a hotel on the corner of Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place. That plan was struck down by the City Planning Commission earlier this month.

“Clearly space hasn’t been driving the plan. I mean, they wanted a hotel for crying out loud,” said Jeff Goodwin, professor of sociology, who lives near the campus.

But square footage per student would allow NYU to be in step with schools such as Harvard and Princeton. Still, some faculty members aren't convinced it's a safe bet.

"An alarming number, a critical mass of our faculty with expertise in these areas, believe that the administration is over-reaching and that we're heading toward potential bankruptcy if we take on these kinds of financial commitments," Ross said.

Janet Babin contributed reporting

Listen below for an extended interview with NYU President John Sexton: