The 15th of March is over in Abu Dhabi as I write; it has about an hour left to go back in New York, where (the weather Channel website tells me) it’s presently 46 F with freezing rain and snow showers predicted for Saturday afternoon. Here in Abu Dhabi the sun is rising on what promises to be another beautiful day, though at the moment there’s a bit of haze on the horizon all around me.
I awake to an email inbox full of interesting news. There are several messages from NYU FASP indicating the results of the FAS vote of no confidence in the presidency of John Sexton. Apparently 44% (298) of my 682 tenured and tenure-track colleagues in the Faculty of Arts and Science voted to agree with the proposition that “the Faculty of Arts and Science has no confidence in John Sexton’s leadership.” The resolution passed because 113 of my colleagues (17% of eligible voters) either chose not to vote (most likely) or experienced technical difficulties of one kind or another (probably a scattered few), while 47 of my colleagues (7% of eligible voters) chose to register their ambivalence or indecision by voting to abstain. Those numbers leave 223 of my colleagues (33% of eligible voters) disagreeing with the proposition and thereby affirming their overall confidence in President Sexton’s leadership. Add in my vote, and the final number in the last category is 224.
Elsewhere in the inbox there is an email from one of the editors of The Gazelle, NYU Abu Dhabi’s new student newspaper, telling me that an article about the VNC has been posted to their site. There’s a statement from the Board of Trustees “strongly affirming [its] support of John and NYU’s current course” and citing the many achievements of his presidency. There’s a statement from Sexton himself, affirming that “in the university setting, we believe in debate and criticism,” because “it helps us improve.” There’s an email indicating that there’s a comment on my “Confused” post accusing me of “drinking the the kool aid” and insisting that “2031 isn’t about classroom space or faculty housing” because “NYU owns buildings that are currently empty and unused. NYU owns housing that currently is empty and unused. If classroom space and/ or housing is needed they can simply use what they’ve already.”
What to make of it all? I’m hoping that the vote can serve as a catalyst that can shift all the talking and shouting into a more constructive direction.
Let’s get rid of the posturing, the hyperbole, the name-calling, the uninformed pontificating, and the attitude of saying whatever it takes to score points in the media.
Let’s try this radical thought experiment: that each side is actually acting in good conscience and has taken its position on the question at hand (whatever it is) as a result of sound, rational thinking. Let’s try to understand how the question looks from the point of view that isn’t our own.
In the draft of its press release, the FAS Faculty Senate Council Caucus writes, “We are encouraged by the fact that this vote occurred without problems after much thoughtful and respectful discussion among the faculty. In the coming days and weeks, we anticipate that the NYU community, along with the FAS Senators, will be discussing the ramifications of this vote, the circumstances that gave rise to it, and the next appropriate course of decisions and actions.” For his part, President Sexton writes that he “look[s] forward to working with the faculty to maintain NYU’s academic trajectory and prepare for the challenges ahead.”
So let the conversations begin and let them be the kind of deep conversations that Kwame Anthony Appiah describes in his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers: conversations in which participants really listen to one another in good faith because they really believe that those to whom they are speaking might have a better idea or account of the truth than they do; conversations in which participants are willing to put cherish ideas on the table for scrutiny; conversations in which the participants go in willing to have their minds changed.
I’m ready. Who else is in?