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Apartheid at NYU

Apartheid at NYU by Michael Rectenwald, Ph.D. 18 Jun 2013

Recent reports by The New York Times have disclosed details about the extravagant salaries, loans, loan forgiveness packages, parting gifts and other perks and benefits paid to top administrators and 'star' faculty in the law and medical schools at NYU. These revelations, among many other issues, have resulted in the posting of no-confidence votes in President John Sexton by four of NYU's schools. The New York Times added fuel to the fire today when it reported that such lavish compensation packages extend to loans and loan forgiveness packages for vacation homes in the Hamptons and elsewhere.

The Fire Island beach home of John Sexton, New York University's president. An N.Y.U. foundation lent him $1 million for it.

Judging by the comments at the end of these stories, readers of The New York Times are generally outraged. And given the high cost of education in general, the public is rightly disgusted. These administrators and star faculty, with the approval of the Board of Trustees, are effectively looting NYU for their own enrichment.

NYU students, parents and alumni should be especially sickened at these revelations. The cost of an NYU education is roughly $60,000 per year. NYU graduates are among the top student loan debtors in the nation, and thus, the world. Given its relatively paltry endowment, NYU cannot boast of generous student aid packages. These hundreds of millions of dollars could have gone to support financial aid packages for needy students, while supporting educational objectives, the likes of which the university is supposed to perform. Instead, the university has become a shell for a particular class, top administrators and their beneficiaries, the management class and a small bought-off faculty constituency.

Reading these reports might lead one to believe that NYU is home to a coddled, handsomely rewarded faculty, a knot of wriggling leeches living lavishly on the future debts of its students. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The reports refer to a tiny minority, and utterly miss the conditions attendant upon the vast majority of the faculty at NYU.

In terms of compensation, the largest gulf at NYU is certainly the one that separates the top-tier administrators and their favored faculty from the remainder of the faculty at large. These two groups represent the equivalent of the managerial class on the one hand, and the workforce at large on the other.

But even within the workforce, another, perhaps more ugly divide can be descried. This is the one between the tenure-track and tenured faculty, and another class of faculty: the contract faculty. Within this latter group, one finds yet another division: between the full-time and part-time contract faculty. The latter, as anyone can tell you, are treated like the untouchables of the university, a caste silenced and eschewed, not only at NYU, but also throughout the entire university system.

Taken together, this group, the contract faculty, constitutes the vast majority of the overall NYU faculty: 70% in fact. The part-time faculty is the largest group, representing 40% of all faculty members. The full-time contract faculty represents 30%. Together, this majority performs the lion's share of tuition-based work. That is, they teach the majority of NYU's students.

But, they are paid considerably less than their tenured and tenure-track colleagues. Further, they do not receive loans for houses that they could never afford, or loan forgiveness packages. And, unlike their tenured and tenure-track colleagues, they do not, under current university policies, qualify for discounted faculty rental housing. Unlike tenure-track and tenured faculty, they do not receive remuneration to compensate for their 'refusal' of faculty housing. In fact, without discounted housing or the prospect of compensation in lieu of it, they are expected to live on salaries that are considerably beneath a living wage for New York City. This goes for part- and full-time contract faculty as well.

The average starting salary for a full-time contract faculty member is an estimated $60,000 to $65,000 per year. The average per-course compensation for part-time contract faculty is roughly $5,000. A member of the latter group, if 'lucky' enough to be offered them, might teach eight courses a year and accrue around $40,000 a year.

The average salary for a tenured and tenure-track faculty member, who generally teaches four classes per year or their equivalent, is considerably higher, beginning at an average of roughly $105,000 for assistant professors, and reaching an average 188,000 for full professors. That is, the average for assistant professors is higher than that of all full-time contract faculty members. This average includes full-time contract faculty of whatever term of service, including those who have spent their entire careers at NYU. And the average for an assistant professor is more than twice that of a part-time contract faculty member teaching eight courses a year, or double the course load of the assistant professor. That is, the adjunct professor makes 75% per course lower than that of the assistant.

Further, as reported this spring in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the contract faculty members are not even represented in the University Faculty Senate, within which every other constituency at NYU -- staff members, administrators, tenure-track and tenured faculty, and students -- are all represented. This exclusion pertains to full-time as well as part-time contract faculty. That is, this full-time contract faculty, which teaches far more classes than their tenure-track and tenured peers combined, and maintains obligations to publish and serve on committees responsible for curriculum development, has absolutely no say in the governance or operation of the university at large. The complaint of the faculty at large about the lack of governance accorded them is far truer for the full-time faculty under contract.

This spring, a group of full-time contract faculty at NYU met to find ways for remediating this obvious flaw in a university governance system, and may consider the other issues that face them. The meeting marked the inauguration of the Association of Full-Time Contract Faculty at NYU. This was the first effort of university-wide organization of full-time contract faculty at NYU, where the part-time contract faculty is at least represented by a union.

Thus, upon closer inspection, one can see that NYU is a place of extreme divisions. To be perfectly clear, this apartheid is maintained by the top administrators, largely to support the grand schemes that help them to rationalize their own enrichment. The 'growth' model of John Sexton and Company is used to keep enough balls in the air such that the disappearance of a few is considered justified. The divisions perpetrated by the administration do not benefit the faculty at large, nor do they benefit students, who pay extremely high tuition in spite of having mostly underpaid professors. The apartheid at NYU makes for a workplace with very low faculty and staff morale, a morale that sinks further with every new revelation of what can only be counted as the virtual embezzlement of vast sums of money taken from a non-profit corporation for the profit of a few.

Michael Rectenwald, Ph.D., is the founder and chair of Citizens for Legitimate Government. His writings for CLG can be found here and here. He teaches in the Global Liberal Studies Program at New York University and is the author of numerous essays, and three books. Among the most recent of his books is The Thief and Other Stories, a collection of short stories, published in 2013.

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