Writing NYU’s Next Chapter
Date: July 6, 2023
To: The NYU Community
From: NYU President Linda G. Mills
Dear NYU Community,
Almost five months ago, I wrote to you as President-Designate and asked you to participate in a university-wide conversation about our collective future. I also kicked off a listening tour — an opportunity for me to hear afresh your challenges, hopes, and questions while I prepared to take office. As a social scientist, therapist, lawyer, and documentary filmmaker, I have learned that listening involves a multi-layered process. I sought to hear what was on your minds qualitatively as well as quantitatively; affectively and also critically; in large forums and small groups. This listening tour, still underway, has given me an opportunity to broaden and deepen my understanding of the university and to validate what we love about NYU. It has also helped to shape my vision of our path ahead.
My process began with 20 feet of blank poster paper. I wanted a comprehensive list of every school, college, institute, administrative unit, and council to ensure that I could hear from as many people as possible across our global network. I was looking for the widest range of ideas and perspectives, so I also invited each of you to write to me. Sixty listening sessions and hundreds of written submissions later, more than 1800 members of our community offered their views on where NYU has been and where we should now go.
Even after being at this extraordinary university for two decades, the scale and scope of our academic community still has me in awe. I have come to appreciate, more profoundly, that NYU is different from other universities — not only in our global identity, but in our ambition and potential. The desire to be a part of something bold and distinctive is deeply rooted in our history. It resonates with our conviction that learning should be engaged and not cloistered; and with our belief that higher education should be more accessible, a value we demonstrate by educating more undergraduate Pell Grant recipients than Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth combined. Knowing all that differentiates us, it was not surprising to hear, over and over again, that you were excited about the potential to focus NYU more sharply on what we care most about: making a difference in the lives of individual people, in structures and systems, on both local and global scales.
Overall, across our community, there was considerable pride in how far NYU has progressed; we are today the most global university with world-class students, researchers, faculty, departments, and schools working across the planet. But this progress has also raised our sights and our aspirations.
Scientists, social scientists, artists, legal scholars, humanists, students, faculty, staff, and alumni, repeatedly told me that we need to combine forces across disciplines and departments in order to multiply the impact we can have on today’s most pressing questions. Many people described feeling hampered by structures and ways of doing business that divide our community and create dynamics that are competitive rather than collaborative, zero-sum rather than net-positive. They wished for new approaches and better avenues to unleash our collective potential. This desire extended across our network regardless of where people were based. Students wanted more from their global experiences so that they could become effective stewards of our planet, administrators wanted to learn from colleagues outside their home campuses, and faculty wanted to extend their research and creative work to new realms.
While there were other compelling themes — and a healthy list of issues to prioritize as well as systems and processes that need fixing — the sum of what I heard was a belief that we could transform NYU from being extraordinary in its parts to a whole that exceeds all expectations. We can do this because we are already on this path. The examples abound and we will build on them.
As I reflect on all that I have heard over the past five months, I see clear opportunities at NYU that are waiting to be untethered. In addition to promoting collaboration that bridges disciplines, departments, schools, and locations, and spans international boundaries, I also heard that the arts and humanities can — and should — be central to our vision. I heard you say that we need to create a distinctive approach to science and tech, one that brings to bear not just our extensive STEM resources but also our social scientists; our artists and humanists; our experts in NYU’s expansive list of outstanding professional and graduate schools. In addition, I heard from students, faculty, and staff that we should double down on our commitment to global engagement, education, and research, drawing on NYU’s established network and international profile. Just as important, I heard from nearly everyone that we need to foster a community and workplace that flourishes — one that recognizes our interdependence, affirms and celebrates our diversity, and acknowledges the fact that we share a collective goal: to make a difference.
As I continue to contemplate our next steps, I am aware of the urgency we all feel. Over and over again, I heard you say: the time is now. In order to achieve the change we seek, we will need to make hard decisions about how to allocate our precious assets, including time and money. NYU has always done more with fewer resources. Now more than ever we must build our capacity to prioritize, grow research and industry support, and continue to expand fundraising to advance our mission.
My commitment to you today is to travel this path together, to continue to listen deeply, to ask hard questions and to learn from difficult answers, to innovate and experiment. Fall will be a time of action. I look forward to joining you in creating the future of our beloved NYU.
Linda G. Mills