Statement of Lauren Benton
Professor of History, Law
Dean of the Humanities
New York University
To the New York City Planning Commission
For the Public Hearing on the New York University Core Project
April 22, 2012
Dear Chair and Commissioners:
I write in strong support of the NYU 2031 plan. As Professor of History and Dean for the Humanities at NYU I am acutely aware of the constraints on by lack of space at New York University. Additional space is urgently needed to accommodate current activities in core departments and programs, as well as to enable the development of emergent fields of research and instruction. The 2031 plan addresses these needs while also providing space required for NYU is to remain competitive in attracting students, faculty, and research funding in corning years.
The Humanities Division in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences comprises sixteen departments and four interdisciplinary centers and is the largest division within the Faculty of Arts and Science. Humanities fields play a leading role in promoting NYU's national and international reputation. Both routine academic operations and growth across humanities departments, programs, and centers have been hindered by space constraints. All departments suffer as a result of inadequate classroom and office space, and all units face constraints to growth; a half dozen humanities departments are now so crowded that they struggle to maintain vital academic programming.
Consider just a few examples. NYU's Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies is one of the world's leading departments in the interdisciplinary study of Jewish culture and history, in a city that is itself a rich center of Jewish culture. Many senior faculty in the department work in small, windowless offices, and distinguished visitors and language faculty crowd in twos and threes into shared offices. The university recently renovated a windowless basement room to accommodate some instructional staff and graduate students. The space situation for this department is dire by any standards, yet faculty and students also note the advantages of being near other programs with which they share faculty and students, and they have repeatedly opposed exploring space options distant from Washington Square.
The Department of Music is another example of a highly nationally rated department that suffers mightily from cramped quarters. The department uses every inch of its currently allocated space to accommodate faculty and staff offices, and it lacks appropriate and updated space for instruction using audio recordings, student practice rooms, performance space, and audio research facilities. The department has done everything possible to reconfigure its existing space, including re-purposing corridors as offices and crowding audio equipment into the only meeting room. Faculty, staff, and students ask the administration every year to arrange a move to a new location - a possibility that would open with construction under the 2031 plan.
For some units, the lack of academic space at NYU has meant putting up with undesirable locations and facilities far from colleagues. The East Asian Studies Department had to move two years to leased space that is surrounded by non-university offices. The Religious Studies program is located in the middle of a floor office suites in a building far from the academic units with which it shares faculty and students. The isolation of such arrangements can have a negative impact on the morale of faculty, staff, and students.
For all the humanities departments, space constraints affect the delivery of academic content.
Seminars represent key components of humanities academic programs. NYU's profound shortage of seminar rooms means that many such courses are scheduled in oddly configured spaces that are sub-optimal for the kind of instruction that is the hallmark of humanities education at first tier institutions around the country.
Alongside these chronic space problems, humanities departments and programs at NYU experience periodic crises connected to the dearth of academic space. This spring semester, for example, the History Department - a core academic unit with a stellar faculty and hundreds of majors - learned that classrooms had not been assigned for many of its fall classes because of difficulties finding appropriate space for scheduled classes. Without classrooms, the courses were not listed for students to register until weeks into the registration period. The lag time had a severe impact on enrollments in some History courses and on choices available to students. And, again, the effects on faculty and student morale were noticeable.
As such examples show, academic space needs in the Humanities at NYU are severe and urgent, and they directly affect the ability of our programs to thrive. For these and for many other reasons, I strongly support the NYU 2031 Plan. NYU needs space close to Washington Square in order to remain its trajectory as a vibrant and growing university with world-class instruction and research.
Please support NYU's ability to meet the needs of faculty and students for academic space.