Photo courtesy of the Washington Square News

SLAM and Student Representation on NYU Board of Trustees

Despite some students’ desire for autonomy in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, the NYU Board of Trustees and the NYU University Senate dictate NYU-wide policy for all portal campuses.

Nov 5, 2017

Alumni Weekend at NYU New York, held on Oct. 20 and Oct. 21, marked the latest major documented protest of the Student Labor Action Movement in its efforts to place a student represenative on NYU’s Board of Trustees. SLAM’s efforts followed their major victory in 2016 to raise the minimum wage for those who perform student work-study and other student workers to $15 (55 AED) per hour, and a variety of other recent labor-related actions. The protest also followed a series of developments in NYU’s Student Senators Council which, in recent months, has both endorsed SLAM’s board-related efforts and undergone significant restructuring itself.
Members of SLAM have been advocating for a student seat on the NYU Board of Trustees since Sept. 23, 2016, when they launched their first organized action outside NYUNY’s Bobst Library. SLAM's move featured a number of speakers outside the library and petition signatures solicited around the building. Formal efforts by SLAM coalesced in February 2017 when the Student Senators Council, which is the chief form of student representation university-wide, voted in favor of a resolution that would place two students, one undergraduate and one graduate, on the 49-seat Board of Trustees.
The NYU University Senate, the chief representative body for NYU students, faculty and administration, then discussed the SCC’s resolution on whether the community would endorse the SCC and SLAM’s push for student representation on the Board of Trustees. Ahead of the proposed University Senate vote, and following demonstrations directed at President Hamilton and members of the Board of Trustees, SLAM held a meeting with President Hamilton in early March 2017. Ultimately, the student on the Board of Trustees resolution failed to pass the University Senate, never being vigorously debated within the Senate although the resolution itself was reportedly circulated.
At the start of the Fall 2017 semester, SLAM brought back efforts to get a student on the Board of Trustees. Notably, this iteration started out with a buoying statement from New York City mayor and NYU alumni Bill de Blasio saying that he supported SLAM’s efforts to get a student on the NYU Board of Trustees.
SLAM further submitted a letter to NYU President Andrew Hamilton the week of Sept. 26 outlining their continued concerns and reasonings behind the desire for student representation.
In an apparent shift in the nature of the movement, SLAM’s efforts going into October 2017 took a more aggressive stance in criticizing current members of the NYU Board of Trustees as part of their campaign. Along with the creation of an online pamphlet that criticized current members of the Board of Trustees reminiscent of the NYU Disorient guide, SLAM’s protest at the recent Alumni Weekend featured signs criticizing major members of the Board of Trustees. One of those criticized was Khaldoon Al Mubarak, CEO of Mubadala and major financer of NYU Abu Dhabi. The criticism echoed previous accusations of Al Mubarak’s culpability in the abuse of workers by subcontractors building NYUAD’s Saadiyat Island campus.
Most recently, NYU President Andrew Hamilton answered SLAM’s September letter in late November. Upon receiving his response, SLAM promptly responded in kind through a series of comments on the text piece published in Washington Square News. President Hamilton reaffirmed his disagreements with the idea of a student on the Board of Trustees. He primarily cited a conflict of interests on behalf of students as well as students’ apparent lack of knowledge about university financing— key in the years since NYU nearly became insolvent the 1970s. The recent efforts of SLAM were further reportedly criticized by NYU Spokesman John Beckman in a conversation with Washington Square News. Beckman stated that, “Ad hominem attacks on board members — people who support the university with their commitment, their time, and their generosity — do not in any way advance SLAM’s arguments.”
Washington Square News, on the other hand, recently endorsed the efforts of SLAM at NYU again, finding that not only were President Hamilton’s claims of a conflict of interest “absurd” given the commitments of other members, but also that other universities in the United States have similar student representatives. SLAM’s efforts have also been echoed across left-leaning student groups on NYU’s campus, including the architects of NYU’s Disorientation Guide.
For all the efforts of SLAM in New York, there has nevertheless been little sympathy or action by students in either Abu Dhabi or Shanghai.
“Some students know, many probably don't, but this affects us all equally nonetheless,” stated Kelly Murphy, NYU Abu Dhabi Student Government President, speaking in a personal capacity in a comment to The Gazelle.
“I appreciate the movement for student representation on the Board of Trustees,” she continued.
NYU Shanghai President James Bromley and Vice President Branden Taylor echoed Murphy’s beliefs on the importance of student representation on the Board as part of SLAM’s initiative.
“We think it's a step in the right direction — anything to improve transparency between the administration and students is warmly welcomed by us and we commend SLAM and the students involved ... We think our constituents for the most part are not aware of this effort and won't necessarily pay too much attention to the issue, since administrative decisions in NYC won't affect our students immediately, as those taken by the administration in Shanghai would,” said Bromley.
Asked for comment, SLAM had yet to respond to The Gazelle at the time of writing.
Thomas Klein is Editor-in-Chief. Email him at
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