Statement of Dalton Conley
Dean for the Social Sciences and Professor of the Social Sciences
Department of Sociology
New York University
Before the New York City Planning Commission
For the Public Hearing on the New York University Core Project
April 25, 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the Commission:
My name is Dalton Conley, and I am here today to speak to you as a faculty member in the social sciences at NYU. I want to lend my voice to support the approval of NYU’s proposed development of the superblocks. This support comes from the dire need for integrated space in the social sciences.
In the last half-decade or so, I have had to move my faculty office three times, from 269 Mercer to 726 Broadway to the Puck Building on Lafayette and Houston Street. Two of those locations have been rentals, where the university has sunk enormous resources into renovating space to make it fit for academic use, displacing departments and people in the process, only to see the investment go to waste once the space is repurposed or the lease ends in our never-ending game of musical chairs. In fact, our lease at the Puck building, where Sociology and the Wagner School of Public Service occupy three floors, is about to end in 3 years, leaving us “homeless” so to speak. This is no way to build or sustain a world-class university. The social sciences at NYU is ranked in the top-ten of all social science divisions by the most-respected, Shanghai World University Rankings. Without a permanent home for all its departments, we risk aborting that raise and slipping out of the world’s elite.
Sociology and Wagner could of course move somewhere far from the “core” of the university, but that would be counterproductive to our mission. From my experience over the last few years at Puck, just being that far away from the other social sciences departments has meant fewer collaborations in teaching and research. I don’t have to tell this commission that even in an age of wireless communication, propinquity matters when it comes to knowledge work. And though Lafayette Street to Washington Square may not seem like much, in a city where poverty and extreme wealth can reside mere blocks apart, New York City distances are like dog years—one must multiply them by seven to get the real feel of separation. Having more space at our core, then, is critical to maintaining the integrity of the social sciences at NYU.
Before I close, I would like to address the testimony of the faculty who have come out to oppose this plan. While the easy explanation is NIMBYism, there is another force at work here: process. I think that if most of the faculty understood the dire constraints that we face and the tradeoff of not building on our existing land, they would not reflexively oppose this plan. My sense is that NYU has arrived at a solution to our space problems that is optimal, but which we came to through less-than-ideal means. Had more faculty been involved in the process itself and had it been less driven my administration officials, you would see few if any professors testifying against it here today. But it’s too late for that now. Sometimes one arrives at the right answer through the wrong process. Don’t cripple one of New York City’s world class universities because its internal communication and governance process were not ideal. Please vote to approve the proposed plan before you.