Yann LeCun

The “Nobel Prize of Computing” Comes to Campus

Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences / Tandon School of Engineering

From face recognition to self-driving cars, artificial intelligence is proliferating as it is today thanks in part to the groundbreaking work of Yann LeCun. Along with Yoshua Bengio (Université de Montréal) and Geoffrey Hinton (University of Toronto), LeCun developed techniques that laid the foundation for the technology. In March, the three so-called “godfathers of AI” won the prestigious Turing Award. The French-born LeCun keeps busy: he is Facebook’s chief AI scientist, is the founding director of NYU’s Center for Data Science, and is professor there as well as at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, NYU’s Center for Neural Science, and the Tandon School of Engineering. A third of the $1 million winnings goes to LeCun, who is donating two-thirds of his portion to NYU.
—Deborah Lynn Blumberg (GSAS ’05) 
(Portrait by Roberto Parada)

 

 

Yann LeCun won the prestigious Turing Award along with Yoshua Bengio and Geoffrey Hinton


East Meets West in the Pudong District

NYU Shanghai

Photo of NYU Shanghai building

In an area being developed into a business, cultural, and educational hub, ground was recently broken for a new 10-story structure, which will serve as the epicenter for NYU Shanghai. The Manhattan-based architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox designed the building (rendering seen above) to embrace traditional features of Chinese and Western learning. The four entrances on the site’s corners allow for unhindered circulation and evoke the Washington Square archway and traditional gates into Chinese cities. An interior courtyard of more than two acres mimics both a Chinese scholar’s garden and the central quad common to many American colleges. Finally, four separate buildings will merge at the third-floor level and be punctuated with more than 20 green terraces. The self-contained new campus will include a 53,820-square-foot library, nearly 75,347 square feet of research and lab space, and designated athletic space. It will roughly double the amount of classroom space currently available for NYU Shanghai students, accommodating up to 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Doors are set to open in 2022.
—Alison Gwinn 
(Photo by Kohn Pedersen Fox)


A Heroic Show in Central Park  

Gallatin School of Individualized Study /
Tisch School of the Arts

An adaptation of an animated Disney film might be the last thing you’d expect from New York City’s Public Theater, but from August 31 to September 8, the downtown institution presented Hercules at Central Park’s al fresco Delacorte 
Theater. Staging a Disney musical inevitably draws comparisons to a certain group of animals that moved to Broadway from Pride Rock. “Not to say it’s the next Lion King, but it has a similar kind of ambition,” says Kristoffer Diaz (GAL ’99, TSOA ’02), a clinical associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and associate arts professor at the Tisch School of the Arts who wrote the book for the new production. The show also featured the movie’s iconic score as well as additional original songs by the film’s composer, Alan Menken (ARTS ’72, HON ’00), and lyricist, David Zippel. 

    “I think that’s thrilling,” Diaz says. Jelani Alladin (TSOA ’14) also played an important role, starring as the mythological hero. The project was part of the Public Theater’s Public Works initiative, which invites city residents to participate in performances. Upwards of 120 New Yorkers ranging in age from 5 to octogenarians acted, sang, and danced alongside the pros. “It’s a real triumph of democracy, a real triumph of community, and that’s why we make theater,” Diaz says. “The opportunity to share this show with this big of a cast and with New York City, for free, at the Delacorte, is remarkable. It’s a real gift.”
—Niv M. Sultan (GSAS ’18) 
(Illustration by Nick Lu)

Illustration of Hercules in Central Park

“I think it’s great for Disney to be involved in a project like Public Works,” Diaz says, “where our cast is made up of [nonprofessional actors] from all over the city who grew up listening to the songs in Hercules.”

 


The Intersection of Drug Use, HIV, and Hepatitis

College of Global Public Health
The rise in opioid addiction has created a new generation of people who inject drugs and may contract HIV and Hepatitis C from needle-sharing. The College of Global Public Health’s Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research and its 100 affiliated investigators are leading the charge to change that. Founded in 1998 around the height of the AIDS epidemic, the center matches seasoned investigators—most from NYU—with newer investigators from NYU and allied organizations. The young researchers from across disciplines—social work, nursing, anthropology, statistics—receive mentorship and benefit from center-run conferences and small grants. Studies cultivated at the center are shaping policy and grassroots initiatives to help end the epidemics. Stricter control over opioid prescriptions has pushed many users to inject heroin and fentanyl, says Holly Hagan, the center’s director and an epidemiologist. While “old-timers who survived the HIV epidemic have changed their behaviors around sharing equipment,” she says, new users are less informed. Of concern is that HIV could spread among recent-onset drug users. Substance users who acquire HIV are less likely to be in care than HIV patients who don’t use opioids. Recently, the center added research scientists and received sizable awards to study fentanyl exposure among drug users in New York City and barriers to users accepting Naloxone, which counters the effects of opioid overdose. “These are complex problems,” Hagan says—best served by the center’s multidisciplinary approach.
—Deborah Lynn Blumberg (GSAS ’05)


Complaining While Black

Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

In 2014, through a Freedom of Information Act request, the nonprofit journalism organization Invisible Institute acquired the first of what would end up becoming thousands of misconduct complaints against the Chicago Police Department. That piqued the interest of Jacob Faber, assistant professor of sociology and public service at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, who used the data to investigate how race and residential segregation affect the way accusations against the police play out. His paper “Complaining While Black” shows that grievances lodged by blacks or Latinos were far less likely to result in a punishment recommendation—1.9 percent for blacks and 6.7 percent for Latinos versus 19.7 percent for whites. An officer’s race and a neighborhood’s racial composition also made a difference, and Faber found no evidence of misbehaving officers being weeded out. “Solutions are hard,” he says, “because the process for adjudicating these complaints is not all that transparent.” Unfortunately, Faber is unconvinced that change is on the horizon, but he hopes research will shed light on the problem: “We’re at least trying and struggling to have a conversation about these issues.”
—Deborah Lynn Blumberg (GSAS ’05)

 

 

Color blocks represent small number of complaints by blacks and latinos against the police that result in punishment compared to those by whites

Blocked From Justice: An infographic of the study’s findings—each color representing the number of complaints filed, broken down by race, with the darker shade indicating the percentage of those complaints that were sustained. (Graphic by Nathaniel Kilcer)


International Discourse

Liberal Studies

This academic year marks the 10th anniversary of the Global Liberal Studies (GLS) bachelor’s degree program. Halfway to this milestone, GLS launched the Global Lecture Series—free, open-to-the-public talks with speakers (pictured below) whose work is interdisciplinary. The goal of the events is for an attendee to leave “churning with ideas,” says dean Julie Mostov (GSAS ’85). “I think that’s a great sign.”
—Kirsten Frances O’Regan (GSAS ’14)

Photos of some of the speakers in the Global Lecture Series

Top row (l to r): Anthropologist and professor Lila Abu-Lughod (photo by Hernan Valle); author and human rights activist Ishmael Beah (photo courtesy of Jenna Bascom); author and literary critic Samuel R. Delany (photo courtesy of Alex Lozupone); poet and educator Terrance Hayes (photo courtesy of Becky Thurner Braddock); playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner (TSOA ’84) (photo courtesy of Franchise41). Bottom row (l to r): Fantasy novelist and activist China Miéville (photo courtesy of Catriona Sparks); video artist and filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa (photo courtesy of Mangrove Arts Foundation); writer and critic Luc Sante (photo by Agence Opale/Alamy); conceptual artist and activist Nadya Tolokonnikova (photo by Nikolay Vinokurov/Alamy).


A Case of Bigotry That Made History

Faculty of Arts and Science

“Blood libel” refers to the allegation that Jews kill Christian children and use their blood in religious rituals, such as the making of matzo—an anti-Semitic indictment that began in the Middle Ages and continues to the present day.
    Despite its proliferation over centuries, there is only a single documented criminal case in US history in which “blood libel” was the official charge. This occurred in 1928 in the upstate New York town of Massena, which is where Edward Berenson grew up.
    In The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town (Norton), Berenson chronicles the case in which Barbara Griffiths, age 4, wandered into Massena’s surrounding woods and disappeared, prompting a frantic search involving some 300 people. Several hours into the hunt, “someone—it’s unclear who—floated the idea that Barbara had been kidnapped and killed by the Jews,” writes Berenson, chair of Arts and Science’s Department of History and a professor at the Institute of French Studies. “She was the victim, voices said, of ritual murder, of the Jews’ supposed need to ritually kill Christian children and harvest their blood.”
    While Griffiths was soon found—unharmed—the town, led by mayor W. Gilbert Hawes, maintained its belief that she had been kidnapped by Jews who were plotting a violent religious ceremony (Griffiths’ disappearance occurred two days before Yom Kippur) and relentlessly, yet ultimately unsuccessfully, attempted to press the case.
    Berenson considers several aspects of the incident, which eventually drew an apology from Hawes and the state police: “Why Massena, New York? And why there but nowhere else in the United States—and at no other time?” Berenson asks. “What did the accusation and its outcome say about the place of Jews in American life, especially in the wake of intense, weeks-long press coverage of the incident nationwide?”
    The author also juxtaposes the incident with that autumn’s presidential campaign, which pit Herbert Hoover, a Protestant, against Al Smith, the first major-party Catholic nominee, who “epitomized an urban America crowded with immigrants and a large number of Catholics and Jews.” The race, Berenson observes, revived Ku Klux Klan activity in the United States—and, notably, in Massena.
—Aaron Canfield

Book cover of The Accusation

(Photo courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company)


Fostering Business Savvy in the Nation's Capital

NYU Washington, DC / Stern School of Business

Graphic illustration of US flag, with red stripes replaced by red ties

Washington is a company town—that company being the US government. Increasingly, it’s becoming a vibrant financial center, too. That’s why the Stern School of Business selected it as the first city outside New York in which to expand its Executive MBA program. “There’s a tremendous amount of talent in Washington,” says Robert Salomon, professor of management at Stern and vice dean of executive programs. “It’s become a business hub.”
  The 50 students in the inaugural EMBA class in DC began the 23-month program in August 2018. Courses take place over one three-day weekend a month at the NYU Washington, DC, site. “Typically, this program is for working executives with six to 25 years of experience,” Salomon says, adding that 36 percent of those in the program are women and 34 percent are minorities. “And Washington is close enough [to NYC] that Stern professors can go down there once a month.”
  The degree earned is a Stern MBA, and “the program is just as rigorous as our other MBA offerings,” Salomon notes. Students can pursue study in finance, analytics, strategy, and leadership, and they bring a high level of work experience into the class—which might include a physician moving into hospital administration, an IT whiz who understands programming but not management, or someone switching careers entirely. Says Salomon: “This is another way Stern is helping people accomplish their career goals and dreams.”
—Alison Gwinn
(Illustration by Matt Chase)


Two Alums Return to Lead

Faculty of Arts and Science / NYU Abu Dhabi

Both the Faculty of Arts and Science and NYU Abu Dhabi are welcoming new leaders with familiar faces. Antonio Merlo (GSAS ’92) was named dean of FAS, while Mariët Westermann (GSAS ’89, ’97) was appointed vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi. In addition to their alma mater, both share big plans for their respective schools and campuses. Merlo, formerly dean of Rice University’s School of Social Sciences, says, “My primary goal is to help Arts and Science boldly fulfill its aspirations by embracing our entrepreneurial spirit, investing in our exceptional faculty, upholding our values of diversity and inclusion, and fostering our holistic approach to education.” Westermann, who previously served as NYU Abu Dhabi provost and director of the Institute of Fine Arts, says, “I want to enhance the conditions for our scholars, scientists, artists, and students to flourish, generate new knowledge and fresh connections with our region, and make positive differences in the world.” Both assumed their new roles this summer.
—Alison Gwinn

Illustrations of Westermann and Merlo

Mariët Westermann (GSAS ’89, ’97) is the new vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi; Antonio Merlo (GSAS ’92) is the new dean of FAS. (Illustrations by Lauren Mortimer)


Striving to Curb an Epidemic

Silver School of Social Work

The statistics are stark: suicide rates for black youth ages 5 to 11 doubled between 1993 and 2011. Black boys that age are twice as likely to die by suicide as their white counterparts. And black boys are the only group for which suicide rates have increased.
    Alarmed by those trends, the Congressional Black Caucus, working with a group of experts led by NYU’s McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, launched a task force to address the issue. It was formed after Michael Lindsey, McSilver’s executive director and a professor of poverty studies at the Silver School of Social Work, testified before Congress about the problem.
    Lindsey attributes the rising suicide rates to several factors. “We socialize these children to ‘man up,’ to not express fears or vulnerabilities, which leads to a blunted range of emotional expression,” Lindsey says. “Then we often misinterpret warning signs—like irritability or anger—as ‘conduct problems’ and fail to address the underlying causes.”
    The task force aims to complete its work by year’s end. “We hope to produce a report that outlines the issues, talks about emergent research, and makes recommendations for research, policy, and practice,” Lindsey says. The aim is that standardized mental health services can be mandated in schools, churches, and community settings across the country. The goal is to help kids and to educate adults—parents, coaches, tutors, and anyone else who regularly comes in contact with children—to have a baseline awareness level about troubling mental health symptoms.
—Alison Gwinn


Creating Reading Oases

Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

Vending machines have become home to something easier to stomach than sodas and junk food: books. To combat the decline in reading over the summer school break, Susan Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, partnered with JetBlue on the initiative “Soar with Reading.” The program installed six book vending machines in so-called book deserts (where reading materials are hard to come by), two in Queens and one each in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island.
—Niv M. Sultan (GSAS ’18)

 

 

 

Young boy getting a book from a vending machine

(Photo courtesy of JetBlue Airways Corporation)