Testimony of Carol Mandel
Dean of Libraries
New York University
Before the New York City Planning Commission
For the Public Hearing on The New York University Core Project
Good Afternoon Chair Burden and Commissioners,
I am here today to express my strong support for NYU 2031. Having served for 17 years as Dean of NYU’s College of Arts and Science, I now serve as Senior Vice Provost with responsibility for University-wide undergraduate academic affairs. Given this background, I would like to comment on NYS Assembly Member Deborah Glick’s recent editorial in “The Villager” suggesting that our freshmen be housed on Governors Island. I can see how the idea of using Governors Island to house and instruct our freshman students (a sort of Harvard Yard) might be appealing. But it doesn’t reflect the nature of the freshman experience or how we (or any other university) delivers its curriculum. Here are some points to consider.
(1) The sort of students who come to NYU are precisely those who do NOT want a traditional college campus. From the time of our founders, we have been characterizing ourselves as “in and of the city.” Governors Island is wonderful, but it is neither “in” nor “of.”
(2) The parallel with Roosevelt Island is inexact. Roosevelt Island is accessible by subway. Governors Island requires a ferry which would be massively expensive to run and would, in effect, turn us back into a commuting school.
(3) The argument that required first-year (NYU’s so-called MAP curriculum) courses could be given on Governors Island is based on a misunderstanding of how the undergraduate curriculum is delivered. First, while many students take MAP courses, a large number of students take school-specific disciplinary courses to fulfill their general education requirements. Moreover, no first-year student takes only general education courses. Thus, while a Great Books course could theoretically be taught anywhere, disciplinary classes are taken in the academic departments, which are located in and around Washington Square. A freshman, for example, might move from a Great Books course to a biology course which requires access to laboratories on the Square.
(4) Students do not learn only or even exclusively in the classroom or laboratories. Access to Bobst Library is essential, and that library is on Washington Square. Some students take classes that meet there, and use unique archival materials such as the Tamiment Library’s labor history collection; and other students use it for their own study and individual research projects. It’s inconceivable that a freshman would—or should—travel at 10PM at night on a ferry to study in Bobst, any more than to work in a research laboratory.
(5) What applies to the library also applies to student support services. These include two gyms, a state-of-the-art Student Health Center, an Academic Resource Center, a Writing Center, the Wasserman Center for Career Development, the Kimmel Center for University Life (which houses hundreds of student activities and groups), and the new Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life. All of these facilities and services are located in the space between Union and Washington Squares, and it's beyond impractical to expect students to take ferries to see their physician, to shoot hoops, to get late-night help with a term paper, or to participate in an all-University extracurricular club.
(6) Finally—and perhaps most importantly—quite apart from needing access to their departments, libraries and laboratories, and support services, students learn from their interactions with one another. While we may put our freshmen in particular buildings around Washington Square, they live among upper-year students and are also integrated into the larger New York City community, patronizing local businesses and performing community service.
I hope that I have been able to provide the Commission with a helpful perspective. The bottom line, I think, is that the idea of locating NYU’s freshmen on Governors Island is neither feasible nor desirable. The island on which they belong is Manhattan.