When the University, then called the University of the City of New York, was founded in 1831 by Albert Gallatin and others, the top-ranking office was titled Chancellor. Rev. James M. Mathews was inaugurated as the University's first Chancellor in 1832. Early in his tenure, Chancellor Mathews made the decision to move the University north from its Lower Manhattan location to Washington Square.
In 1891, the University's sixth Chancellor, Henry M. MacCracken moved the undergraduate college to the Bronx's University Heights. In 1896, under Chancellor MacCracken's administration, the University of the City of New York was renamed New York University.
In 1956, the Office of the President was created as the chief administrative post of the university, with the Office of the Chancellor retained as chief academic officer. Beginning with James Hester, the title of President has been used for the chief administrative officer. In 1970, President Hester embarked on a mission to raise $222.5 million in five years, the largest fundraising effort ever undertaken by the University, launching with the sale of the University Heights campus. A new master plan was devised to revamp the Washington Square campus, including the construction of the Elmer H. Bobst Library.
In the 1980s and 1990s, NYU was transformed from a regional commuter school to a national and international residential research university, under the leadership of President John Brademas, a former Congressman and House Majority Whip, and President L. Jay Oliva, a professor of Russian history who spent more than three decades in NYU's academic and administrative leadership. During the tenure of John Sexton, the 15th President and former Dean of the Law School, not only the University's stature but its global presence grew- including the creation of new Study Away sites and the successful opening of degree-granting, liberal arts research university campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai.
Andrew Hamilton—a noted chemist, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the Vice Chancellor of Oxford from 2009 through 2015—became the 16th president in January 2016.