Mar 13 2013

Atlantic: The Emir of NYU: John Sexton’s Abu Dhabi Debacle

In February 2008, I attended an New York University faculty meeting about the school’s plans to open a new campus in the tiny desert emirate of Abu Dhabi. I was there reporting for a New York magazine article about the first major U.S. research institution to open a complete liberal-arts university off American soil. Hoping to be a fly on the wall, I instead found myself seated at the head of the table, bombarded with rapid-fire questions by exasperated professors looking for any kernel of information about the new project:

“Who will do the hiring?” one professor asks.

“Will there be tenure? You can’t have academic freedom without tenure, right?”

“Where will the students come from?”

“Why Abu Dhabi?”

“What exactly is the status of Abu Dhabi’s relationship with Israel?”

“Will we become the next Guggenheim franchise?”

I quickly learned that the new initiative was being personally driven by NYU’s larger-than-life president, John Sexton — and that many faculty felt completely left out of a decision that had the potential to dramatically impact the university.

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