Higher Education and Real Estate: Two Bubbles Come Together in NYC
September 7, 2015 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Felix Salmon reports on the continuing saga of Cooper Union (previously on MetaFilter). With NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's recent intervention, the school appears ready to stop digging its financial grave, but blocks away, faculty, staff, and students believe a similar story is playing out with New York University's NYU 2031 initiative. The plan, described as "a real estate deal" in a private conversation with an NYU trustee, is the brainchild of controversial NYU president John Sexton.

Activists at last week's protest denounced NYU's record of handing out six-figure parting gifts to administrators and bankrolling lavish vacation homes for professors at the same time as they ask employees for donations to support the university's financial aid programs, ranked as the stingiest in the nation. One NYU student took the stage to tell her story of turning to sex work so she could afford tuition, bringing the contradictions between NYU's expansive dreams and the financial realities faced by students into sharp relief.
posted by tonycpsu (23 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
NYU administrator here, middle management. Iam well paid and well treated. The union guys I supervise make just about as much as I do and have the same benefits. I have a graduate degree. Most, but not all, of them made it through high school.

I have no problem with that. They do good, necessary work. What it shows, though, is that NYU is generally a good employer. Does anyone really want to change that?

As for the comparison with Cooper Union, note that Cooper Union started with valuable real estate and wound up bankrupt, and that NYU was bankrupt in the 1970s and is now wealthy. How much of this new wealth will be used for student aid remains to be seen, but NYU has not been squandering its endowment on sweetheart deals the way CU did.
posted by ckridge at 2:35 PM on September 7, 2015


The article talks about how you shouldn't lie to the AG.

And, it sure sounds like some people were, errr, 'false and misleading'.

So where are the perjury charges?

Or is this more of the observation from the 1995 trade rag for lawyers where a 4 decade serving DA for a top-30 US city pointed out how rare perjury charges are.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:45 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nya has eaten up the west village as the school expands...in so doing the seem also to have booted out pros from apt housing near the school, annoying faculty. Yale innewhaven is doing something similar, and of course colleges get tax exemptions..
posted by Postroad at 3:08 PM on September 7, 2015


Sorry for typos..using iPad on big ship' fleeing civilization for brief time
Nya,profs are what was meant
posted by Postroad at 3:10 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


On the one hand, NYU has been very savvy in investing money in ways that enhance its prestige and rankings. On the other hand, financial aid does not figure into those calculations, and it is purely a school for rich kids. It seems like a metaphor for the recent history of New York City, to be honest. I don't think NYU is suddenly going to care about the economic diversity of its student body, and I don't think that New York is suddenly going to become affordable for the middle class, and maybe it's more productive for the vast majority of us to think about attractive alternatives.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:14 PM on September 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


purely a school for rich kids

Tuition seems near the median for well known private colleges. Which says less about NYU in particular and more about the insane costs of college in general.
posted by gwint at 3:25 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


See also: College Tuition Can Be Free (We Did the Math)
posted by gwint at 3:26 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not the tuition. It's the financial aid. NYU offers less financial aid than a lot of other elite private colleges. Instead, they've spent money on things like recruiting celebrity professors. This has paid off big-time in terms of the school's reputation and rankings, so you could argue that it was the right thing to do, but if you're a middle-class kid, you're likely to get a much better financial aid offer elsewhere.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:33 PM on September 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


I need to find one of those jobs where they give you money when you go. The last place gave me a cake and cookies. It's a start.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:35 PM on September 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have no problem with that. They do good, necessary work. What it shows, though, is that NYU is generally a good employer. Does anyone really want to change that?

I don't think so, but is it your implication that criticizing them for lavish golden parachutes and sweetheart loans on vacation homes or being against their aggressive expansion plan somehow imperils their status as, according to your experience, a generally good employer? It seems to me that curtailing the obvious grifting and looting at the higher levels would leave more money for everyone else, including you and your staff.

As for the comparison with Cooper Union, note that Cooper Union started with valuable real estate and wound up bankrupt, and that NYU was bankrupt in the 1970s and is now wealthy

Wealthy by what standard? I admit I knew very little about the details of NYU's finances prior to researching this post, but in the Gothamist link in the FPP, an NYU spokesperson speaks about the size of the endowment in less than glowing terms:
But like a lot of my colleagues, I know that NYU is in the unusual position of being regarded as being similar to the top universities academically, but being unlike them in terms of financial resources, and especially per student endowment. That low per-student endowment means NYU has fewer resources available for financial aid than many peer institutions.
A comment on that post points to this page that seems to support NYU's claims of having a comparably low per-student endowment, albeit without any idea of how much of each school's endowment goes to supporting students.

How much of this new wealth will be used for student aid remains to be seen, but NYU has not been squandering its endowment on sweetheart deals the way CU did.

That's exactly what many are saying the Sexton NYU 2013 plan is. I'm not certain they're right, but there are enough voices critical of the expansion that I think it's worth considering what exactly they need all that space for, or whether that money is better spent elsewhere.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:39 PM on September 7, 2015


Most of the people I know who work at NYU (primarily on the tech side) have left over the past few years, but it doesn't appear to be a bad place to be employed for some.

It's an old ha-ha-not-really-a-joke that NYU is a real estate company first and an educational institution second. If you're curious about the leadership's actual goals, kindly refer to the very existence of the Abu Dhabi campus.
posted by phooky at 3:57 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


That Salmon piece on Cooper Union is devastating. I wish it didn't remind me so much of my own school.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:28 PM on September 7, 2015


I can say a lot of bad things about NYU, but unlike other "elite" (sorry NYU, you still get scare-quotes around that) universities, they *are* trying to expand.

For all the noise that Harvard makes about rejecting thousands of qualified applicants, they sure never seen to consider spending any of that sweet endowment money to expand their rolls and further their educational mission.
posted by schmod at 4:48 PM on September 7, 2015


schmod, Harvard is trying to buy up half of Allston/Brighton, and the residents are extremely pissed about it.
posted by Melismata at 5:22 PM on September 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


they *are* trying to expand

With its tax exemption, the school's physical expansion will come at the expense of space that could be used for other purposes that don't take money out of the city's tax base. This is laudable if NYU is using that space to fulfill an academic mission in ways they can't with their existing space, but their lack of interest in supporting current students with financial aid and other misplaced spending priorities certainly raise doubts about whether this ambitious plan is the best use of their resources. Expansion for expansion's sake doesn't seem like a good thing to me.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:33 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Melismata, Harvard bought up huge swaths of Allston using dummy corporations (even Tom Menino was caught offguard), evicted a number of existing businesses, created a giant empty space to make way for a gigantic new science center, then canceled most of the plans when the recession hit. They're slowly starting up again (they moved an entire housing project to put up an office building), but now their plans seem to center mostly on turning the old Allston Yards freight yard, which they also bought, of course, into an entirely new neighborhood, complete with its own commuter rail station (interestingly, they committed to a third of the cost for that, the state said it would kick in another third and then, um, well, Boston University, which owns all the land next to the yards, said no, it wouldn't make up the rest, because it didn't want the general public getting to the station by way of the roads running through its campus).
posted by adamg at 5:48 PM on September 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


NYU is selling an almost completely unique product: the opportunity for kids of the global elite to go to school in New York. (Columbia does that too to some extent, but it's a lot more exclusive academically.) With more and more global elite, it seems like this product will be in high demand.

In addition to the immediate benefit that rich people pay full tuition, rich people tend to have rich kids who can donate generously to the school in a couple decades -- so in some ways catering to them is a long term investment.
posted by miyabo at 6:00 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Rich people pay full tuition, [and] rich people tend to have rich kids who can donate generously to the school in a couple decades -- so in some ways catering to them is a long term investment.

And that right there is the encapsulation of the tragedy of the MBA'ization of higher education.

What about a moral mission? What about uplifting people and spreading the light of knowledge and fostering the spirit of critical inquiry and unfettered debate? No, pay the administrators massive salaries and make sure the endowment is flush enough to be proud of.
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:15 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


What it shows, though, is that NYU is generally a good employer. Does anyone really want to change that?

No. But while NYU might be a good employer to its staff, it seems to be shafting its CUSTOMERS - you know, the students - for the sake of lining the presidents' pockets. Don't you, as an employee of this institution, want to change THAT?

(Tisch drama, class of '92, took me 15 years to pay off student debt.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:31 PM on September 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


NYU is selling an almost completely unique product: the opportunity for kids of the global elite to go to school in New York.

And if NYU were a for-profit seller of supremely expensive automobiles or watches or diamond-covered smartphones or whatever, that would be swell. But NYU is a non-profit educational institution, not a high-end subsidiary of LVMH, and it also has considerable impacts on its surrounding community.

Furthermore, NYU has aggressively marketed itself to a demographic of high school students across America that in no way resemble the "global elite" you invoke. While their families are, of course, comparatively wealthy on a global scale, NYU is attracting plenty of students who can't realistically afford it, and its offering them substantially less in financial aid than its peers. Their money then goes to ambitious growth for the sake of growth expansion plans as directed by leadership too focused on building a global brand to care whether existing students are getting the education they are paying for.
posted by zachlipton at 10:55 PM on September 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


For all the noise that Harvard makes about rejecting thousands of qualified applicants, they sure never seen to consider spending any of that sweet endowment money to expand their rolls and further their educational mission.

I don't know much about their real estate dealings, but the Harvard Extension school is relatively affordable and provides amazing classes, often taught by world-class professors. It is open to the public. I took Chemistry there, taught by none other than Harvard College's director of undergraduate science education. It was one of the best classes I've ever taken.

So I think that Harvard actually does quite a lot compared to most (or perhaps even all) of the elite schools to make education accessible to the public.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:55 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Notably, their Extension school classes are taught on evenings and weekends, they have lots of online options...they take accessibility to the public, including working adults, very seriously.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:57 AM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cooper Union Alumni: We're Waking Up From A Bad Dream
Dozens of Cooper Union students, teachers and alumni gathered outside of 41 Cooper Square on Monday night to celebrate an impending settlement between Cooper Union's Board of Trustees, and a group of alumni and faculty that sued the historically-free school last fall over alleged mismanagement, and its recent decision to charge tuition.

"This is a message to colleges and universities across New York State to end the corporatization," said State Senator Brad Hoylman. "Don't treat your alumni as shareholders and your students as customers."
posted by tonycpsu at 9:15 AM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


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