Approximately 250 NYU Abu Dhabi students showed up to the student listening session hosted by the Vice Chancellor Search Committee on Sept. 23. The Vice Chancellor Search Committee met for the first time the day prior to commence their work in compiling a list of candidates to assume the position of NYUAD’s Vice Chancellor, the position currently held by Al Bloom. Bloom announced last year that he will leave the position after the 2018-2019 academic year.
Una Chaudhuri, one of the two Co-Chairs of the committee, expressed how impressed she was with the student attendance at the listening session. At NYU New York — which has a much larger student body — such a committee would be surprised to have 250 students in attendance, she said. Several of the committee members — who are NYUNY faculty and had never been to NYUAD before — were positively surprised by the commitment of the NYUAD student body, added Chaudhuri.
“The student attendance was so meaningful. This committee’s familiarity with our community went from here to here,” said Chaudhuri, measuring out the distance with her hands. “The way students present themselves as very serious, well-prepared, confident, concerned and involved, came through persuasively.”
In addition to Chaudhuri — who is a Collegiate Professor and Professor of English, Drama and Environmental Studies at NYU Arts and Science and Tisch — committee members in attendance at the listening session included Carol Brandt, Associate Vice Chancellor at NYUAD, Karen Shimakawa, Associate Professor and Academic Associate Dean of NYU Tisch and several others
. Also in attendance was a representative for Perrett Laver, the executive search firm hired by NYU to assist in finding a new Vice Chancellor. The company has experience with searches for higher education executives in the Middle East region.
Also on the committee is NYUAD alumna Shamma K. Al Bastaki, Class of 2018. According to Chaudhuri, the committee had designated a spot on the committee for a student, and Al Bastaki was chosen for this spot while still an NYUAD student. Some students had raised concerns over the lack of current students on the search committee, but the committee saw Al Bastaki as a student, not distinguishing between graduating students and other students when the selection was made.
“I was very involved in identifying our student. We knew we would have one student and we weren’t making a distinction between graduated, freshman [or] sophomore. We just wanted an NYU Abu Dhabi student whom we knew would command respect and affection from their peers and the faculty,” said Chaudhuri. “Shamma Al Bastaki has been […] strong and deeply thoughtful in her representation of student experiences and perspectives,” she concluded, while also applauding Tami Gjorgjieva and Chris Wheeler — both Class of 2019 — the President and Vice President of the NYUAD Student Government respectively, for their attention to the search.
Chaudhuri also added that no one on the committee directly represents a particular group — all are nominated by the NYU President after wide consultations from a long list of candidates.
Students also addressed the issue of diversity at the listening session. Prior to the session, a discussion had taken place on Facebook with some students advocating for the committee to choose a Vice Chancellor who is not a white male. The committee was again impressed by the wording of this concern at the listening session, but while they emphasized the importance of considering diversity in the search, Chaudhuri made it clear that the committee will not refuse candidacy of anyone on the basis of skin color, gender or other identity traits.
“I can’t imagine that […] there could be something that’s rigidly exclusive, that people could be ruled out on the basis of some non-academic, non-professional element. At the same time, everyone is so aware of the need for the next Vice Chancellor to be very creatively and effectively engaged with this subject, not just [personally], but in the systems they put in place and the rhetoric that defines the institution going forward,” she explained, adding that the committee will require strong evidence that the candidate enjoys and is able to navigate unfamiliar cultural territory.
Other inputs given by the students were that the coming Vice Chancellor should emphasize student life, be better at connecting students with the larger Abu Dhabi and UAE community, improve relationships between students and contract staff and continue their commitment to academic freedom. Students also urged the committee to be as transparent as possible about the process.
“It’s about looking for people who we think are innovative and capable of inspiring quite radical change and growth, because that’s clearly what is going to be happening here in the next phase. We will get more students, we will get more faculty and we will get more programs, so the committee is aware that they need to be looking for evidence that the candidates have done that successfully at some fairly high level,” added Chaudhuri.
The Vice Chancellor Search Committee will end their work in the spring of 2019 with a short list of candidates to be handed to NYU President, Andy Hamilton, who will decide which candidate will be offered the position.
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