The Economic Divide at New York University - Higher Education
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The Economic Divide at New York University

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I was in New York this past June on a college tour trip with my Filipino/Irish daughter, a high school senior whom one may describe as “flippish.” While we were in the city, we went into the Village and found our way to Momofuku, a trendy ramen noodle shop.
“I want to go to NYU,” my daughter said gleefully over a bowl of soup.

I told her if she did go there, she wouldn’t be eating at Momofuku much, but rather making her own .50 cent a packet ramen in a closet apartment shared with at least 3 people.

Of course, I’d help, but, at $60,000 tuition a year, the only thing four years at NYU seemed to guarantee was a degree in Indebtedness.

By coincidence, The New York Times did a follow-up story that same month on all the special financial perks that management and top academics were getting at the nonprofit research institution. The money seemed key to attracting and retaining top talent, though not necessarily the top teachers. Those types tended to be on contract, non-tenured and relatively perk-less.

The stories caused some alarm among NYU teachers, one of whom, Dr. Michael Rectenwald, posted this on his website:

“NYU students, parents and alumni should be especially sickened at these revelations. The cost of an NYU education is roughly $60,000 per year. NYU graduates are among the top student loan debtors in the nation, and thus, the world. Given its relatively paltry endowment, NYU cannot boast of generous student aid packages. These hundreds of millions of dollars could have gone to support financial aid packages for needy students, while supporting educational objectives, the likes of which the university is supposed to perform. Instead, the university has become a shell for a particular class, top administrators and their beneficiaries, the management class and a small bought-off faculty constituency.

Reading these reports might lead one to believe that NYU is home to a coddled, handsomely rewarded faculty, a knot of wriggling leeches living lavishly on the future debts of its students. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The reports refer to a tiny minority, and utterly miss the conditions attendant upon the vast majority of the faculty at NYU.

In terms of compensation, the largest gulf at NYU is certainly the one that separates the top-tier administrators and their favored faculty from the remainder of the faculty at large. These two groups represent the equivalent of the managerial class on the one hand, and the workforce at large on the other.

But even within the workforce, another, perhaps more ugly divide can be descried. This is the one between the tenure-track and tenured faculty, and another class of faculty: the contract faculty. Within this latter group, one finds yet another division: between the full-time and part-time contract faculty. The latter, as anyone can tell you, are treated like the untouchables of the university, a caste silenced and eschewed, not only at NYU, but also throughout the entire university system.”

I’m certain, to some degree, that all schools in this new “College costs $60,000-a-year” environment have this kind of dialogue taking place. Rewarding and retaining top talent is as important as luring the best students. But some schools do seem more aggressive in one area than the other.

Not many schools get the NY Times treatment either. And now it means my daughter has a dilemma.

On Friday the 13th, our family got an early stocking stuffer when my high school senior was accepted to NYU by way of “early action.” This means that, to accept admission now, my daughter must revoke all applications to other schools. Her only out is if there’s an issue in financial aid. Let me just add that her package does not include a subsidized summer place on Fire Island.

The Times revelations also suggest a less than happy campus atmosphere these days. How exactly does this impact the quality of learning, if at all?

Or maybe the school is turning around and redirecting its largesse to the delight of all?

So I ask those of you in the higher ed blogosphere, who are familiar with these kind of politics within a school, how would you advise an early action candidate to NYU today?

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog)  Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media or follow him on Twitter @emilamok.

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