Remarks delivered by President Mills at the Spring Semester Faculty Reception hosted on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, by the Chairs of the Tenured/Tenure Track Faculty Senators Council (T-FSC) and the Full-Time Continuing Contract Faculty Senators Council (C-FSC).

Thank you, Noelle and David, for your outstanding leadership. Welcome back, everyone. Let’s start with some very good news.

As I said at my inauguration, a long-term goal of my presidency is to make significant progress on our key pathways, while also improving access to a world-class education for every NYU student. These objectives grew out of my extensive listening tour last year. We're already making great strides.

Let’s begin with how we are bolstering science and tech while breaking down silos: For the first time ever, NYU is ranked #1 in research expenditures in New York City. This unprecedented and dramatic rise bodes well for another important update: We have embarked on another listening tour, this one focused on shaping our science and tech agenda. 

Hundreds of faculty members — from Courant to the Tisch School of the Arts — are joining the conversation, and sharing their visions for positioning NYU and New York City as the most favorable for innovation in the nation — and, I dare say, in the world. By next fall, we expect new funding streams to move this agenda forward. 

Second, continuing to strengthen our Global Network: More than 20 faculty members have already visited Tulsa, in anticipation of our soon-to-be-opened research and study away location in Oklahoma. Tulsa joins our sites in DC and LA — each providing a unique and important window on the American experience.

And, on access: A commitment of $20 million from the Berkley Family Foundation is helping NYU provide tuition-free education to all first-year undergraduates from families earning less than $100,000 a year. This will be available to students who enter this fall, and our fundraising efforts continue.

With all of that said, however, our pathway on flourishing proved a greater challenge last semester. 

Flourishing means fostering a welcoming community at NYU in which everyone feels connected, supported, and inspired to do their best work. In that, we have not yet reached our potential.

Today, as I speak to you — our faculty — I am focused on us, and what we can do to support flourishing at NYU. 

I know many of you left for break feeling confused, frustrated and even angry about the atmosphere on campus. And I know you may be worried about how the current semester will unfold. So I wanted to be here today to say two things:

The first is, simply, thank you. I know this has not been easy. But I am grateful and moved by the dedication I see from faculty on campus every single day. You’re working hard to give our students the education they deserve. They know it, and I know it.

The second is this: Out of this adversity, we have an opportunity. To educate our students with renewed commitment and to do so with a vivid understanding of the challenges facing universities today. We have the chance to demonstrate the power of higher education, especially when the public and the media are questioning its value more than ever before.

Indeed, in this fractured time, when misinformation, polarization, and cynicism are everywhere we look, we have never needed higher education more.

It is our job to prepare our students to participate productively in society. We push our students to learn deeply, question often, seek out facts, and think critically. We show them the beauty, and depth, and dimensionality of humanity — and we help them see that in everyone.

Last semester, some members of our community drew lines and picked sides. Antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate percolated into campus conversations, as a national crisis unfolded. Let me be clear: Academic freedom is a cornerstone of this university. It is rooted in diversity of thought and debate. It is a core value — and we will defend it against attack. 

At the same time, academic freedom does not protect harassment or threats. It also requires us — as faculty — to cultivate environments where all NYU students are able to learn. Where classrooms are opportunities to share views, ask questions, and think together about the world’s most vexing issues. 

Today, I offer a campus-wide initiative that will gather great minds from across this University who are committed to creating a community that flourishes, both in and out of our classrooms. This is how we will model constructive global engagement. 

It begins with three building blocks.

First: Building the Capacity to Listen and to Learn. A number of students — on both sides of this debate — shared that they wanted to engage with each other; to discuss the difficult issues, including the agony they have experienced. But, because of hardened views, they didn’t know how to find their way to each other. 

The ability to build those bridges, respectfully, effectively, and with civility is a skill — and it’s one that we have an obligation to teach, starting from day one.

So, this semester we will launch NYU In Dialogue, a series of events designed to help build the capacity to listen and to value intellectual pluralism. Working closely with the Constructive Dialogue Institute, students will be provided practical tools for difficult conversations. By next fall, this comprehensive effort will include all students living in NYU residence halls, teaching them the skills they need for engaging across differences, respectfully and with curiosity. 

We are also partnering with Left, Right and Center, the national radio program hosted by David Greene, to convene renowned guests at NYU to unpack pressing issues from diverse points of view.

Second: Building Global Perspectives. NYU is the global university, with students from every state and over 100 countries. We cherish our encounters with the world; and, indeed, research has demonstrated that students who study away show significant gains in skills and attitudes critical to bridging cultural divides — including empathy and an openness to challenging their existing beliefs. Close to 50% of our undergraduates currently take advantage of our global network, but that means that roughly half do not.

Providing a study away experience to all not only increases students’ cross-cultural sensitivity, but also significantly increases their likelihood to graduate — and to do so in a timely manner. By the time they leave NYU, each and every student should not only have grown their circle of friends but also expanded their understanding of traditions and philosophies from around the world and their curiosity to engage. Working closely with faculty, we can accomplish this goal.

Third: Building Block is Cultivating Resilience and Endurance. For more than two decades, NYU has offered innovative mental health services, which we will continue to do. A new initiative will focus on community well-being. Discussions with leading NYU faculty as well as workshops for students on stress management, self-care and listening will be a cornerstone of our students’ flourishing. 

We will end the semester with another Around the Table dinner, where interested faculty and staff will host 10 NYU colleagues they don’t know for a meal and conversation.

And this is just beginning. Please stay tuned — we will share details in the next few weeks.

NYU’s symbol of the torch represents how education brings light to the darkness. Together, we can foster the next generation of great thinkers and changemakers, who can speak to a multiplicity of views across the political spectrum.

So I hope you'll join this effort; in your classrooms and in your conversations with students. I hope you'll take up this torch of learning, and I hope you’ll help us light a new path toward understanding, humanity, and most of all, peace.  Thank you.