To: The NYU Community
Fr: John Sexton
Re: A Major Step Forward for NYU
Date: Fall 2004

It is my custom to write the University community during the early weeks of each academic year to talk about the priorities and prospects for the year ahead, recognizing the promise and possibilities inherent in each year’s beginning.

Custom aside, this is not the usual “welcome back” message from a university president. This year, we will begin to walk down an important new path, one that may well be seen years from now as taking the University to a new and better place.

NYU enjoys many advantages as a university: over the past two decades we have built an extraordinary research and teaching faculty; we have attracted some of the most talented students in the country; and we have created a campus in an unrivaled location in the greatest city in the world.

These are wonderful assets, to be sure; most universities would be grateful to have any one of them. Given what has been done, it would be easy to be complacent. However, NYU has become what it is because those who came before us refused to be content, and we must honor them and enrich ourselves by continuing our University’s tradition of bold ambition and constant striving. To nurture our affirmative lack of contentment and to propel our University to new heights, we are today announcing a seven-year, $2.5 billion fundraising campaign.

Some twenty years ago, our colleagues and our predecessors began an extraordinary transformation of this University. The NYU they have built, the NYU of 2004, is not an end point; instead, it must serve as the base point for still greater transformation. This campaign that we officially announce tomorrow which will provide us resources to focus on the development of faculty, to increase financial aid across all schools, to build new facilities, and to develop academic initiatives. It takes what has been crafted over the past two decades, and pushes it farther along an accelerating course towards excellence.

NYU is a university blessed with strong professional schools. Still, at the core of any great university is strength in the arts and sciences. In that regard, NYU has made enormous, widely recognized strides by assembling an outstanding faculty in the arts and sciences. However, we must do more. Our Faculty of Arts and Science is relatively small for the number of students it serves, and, simply put, NYU cannot take its next steps unless it invests significantly in building the arts and science faculty. The Middle States Commission Evaluation Team – which, led by University of Rochester president Thomas Jackson, visited here last spring -- both confirmed our sense of pride in what we have accomplished, and reaffirmed the wisdom of the steps we were then planning and are now taking.

Our aspiration is great: nothing less than making our University the home for the next generation of intellectual leadership. So, we will accelerate our efforts that have brought us to this point, and we will do it in a fashion that is uniquely our own. We will not wait for the fundraising campaign to end before we start a new, quickened pace of investment in faculty building; we are beginning immediately. We are able to do so because of an initiative involving a group of trustees who have agreed to participate in a unique program to enable us to fast-track our aspiration: “The Partners Fund”.

The “Partners” have donated as a group $50 million and authorized us to use it immediately to expand the number of faculty in the Faculty of Arts and Science, the Institute of Fine Arts, and the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Furthermore, as a condition of the gift, the Board of Trustees authorized that the “Partners’” donations will be matched by $150 million in existing University funds (which will be replenished through the campaign), creating in effect a venture capital fund that will enable us over five years to spend some $200 million to expand the number of scholars in the FAS, IFA, and CIMS by 125, or 20 per cent. When combined with the hiring that will occur because of natural turnover – an additional 125 – we expect that five years hence there will be a new generation of our arts and science faculty at NYU, representing fully one-third of the tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Using the Partners Fund, this year, we will begin a period of unprecedented hiring in the ranks of arts and science faculty. That hiring will be matched by an intensive effort to improve facilities for FAS, IFA, and CIMS. With the capital spending we have planned for the arts and sciences over that same period, our investment in FAS between now and 2010 will total some $350 million.

It is an enormous challenge to create such growth in such a short span of time and do it well – that is, do it in a way that maintains high standards. That having been said, our benefactors, our Trustees, and I have full faith that Provost David McLaughlin, FAS Dean Richard Foley, and their faculty colleagues will apply both vigor and discernment in identifying and recruiting from around the country and around the world those scholars who are or who will emerge as pre-eminent in their fields.

As a group, these new faculty will be institution builders in every sense of the word. They will share and embrace our view of New York University as a common enterprise university. We seek faculty members who are shaping their fields of scholarship, who love to teach and are good at it, who are comfortable crossing disciplinary boundaries when interdisciplinary approaches are needed, and who are eager to use the richness of New York City to advance their research and educational work.

The Partners Fund is designed to advance the FAS, IFA, and CIMS programs without creating a burden to other schools. The overall campaign addresses not just our vision for the arts and science core. The $2.5 billion it raises – which must be raised at the rate of $1 million per day going forward – goes well beyond the Partners’ Fund, and will provide resources to fulfill the dreams of all of NYU’s schools.

Universities tend to be rather hidebound institutions; dramatic change is rare. NYU’s history is distinctive: it was founded on a different model than other U.S. universities. Always been an innovator; and it not only survived a fiscal crisis some 30 years ago, but used it as a starting point for what one author called “the success story” in modern higher education.

Fifty years from now, this year, 2004, will be seen as one of those critical turning points in our history, the juncture where we were finally able to expand our circle of scholars in keeping with our academic aspirations, rather than in lockstep with the size of our student body.

Even absent the effort we are about to undertake, we should remember that we have sustained remarkable institutional momentum. In the past year or two alone, we can point to major advancements, remarkable achievements of which most universities would be happy to claim any one. A list of just a few makes the point:

  • The completion of an important phase in the renovations to the Tisch School’s space, and the successful launch of its brand new department, the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music;
  • The creation of the Wagner School’s wonderful, first-ever home in the renowned Puck Building, to which all of its faculty moved this summer and which was dedicated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week;
  • The very substantial progress that has been made in constructing the School of Medicine’s new Smilow Research Building, which is due to open January 2006, and in recruiting the research faculty who will work there, as well as the completion of the Medical Center’s new state-of-the-art cancer care center;
  • Important renovations in Bobst Library to create a true learning by improving access to research resources, providing better study and work spaces for students, and reinforcing Bobst as the academic heart of our institution;
  • The opening of Furman Hall, the Law School’s impressive and much needed new building, and the completion of the renovations to Vanderbilt Hall;
  • The upgrading and renovation of College of Dentistry’s clinics, which serve needy New Yorkers;
  • The completion of wonderful new teaching laboratories for undergraduates and the renovation of life science research laboratories; and
  • The advancement of projects to add and renovate general-use classrooms;
  • Over 235,000 square feet of new academic space with the addition of the Tower Video and Cooper Square sites

Of course, such a list of easily observed improvements does not capture many of the most important achievements we made, from the recruitment of new faculty in Steinhardt which emphasize the school's commitment to improving urban education in New York and the world, to important new programs to enhance student life, to the successful completion of negotiations with part-time faculty, which we anticipate will foster a positive relationship with not only our adjuncts, but the entire university community. Each of you has played an important role in carrying our University to a place where its next important and transformative steps are possible, and I thank you.

There may be no enterprise that is greater – more satisfying, more fulfilling, more exciting – than embracing an important educational institution and making its future better. If we use the next few years correctly – and I have confidence we will, though that is by no means guaranteed – we will serve thousands, perhaps millions, through the knowledge created here and the students educated here.

As we start the new academic year, I am thrilled to work with all of you in constructing this sublime and mighty future for New York University.