We are the Student and Labor Action Movement, an organization led entirely by New York University students. Together with our allies, we are delivering this letter to all NYU trustees and high-level administrators because we are deeply concerned about our University’s reliance on student debt and abusive labor practices.
Our priorities are reducing the financial burden on students and making this institution a place we can be proud of. These should be your priorities too. We demand:
— NYU make financial aid its first priority.
— A $15 minimum wage for all NYU workers, including student workers.
NYU is perfectly capable of financing this reprioritization by capping administrative salaries and benefits, such as Jacob Lew’s $685,000 severance pay, and by cancelling the unpopular and unneeded expansion plan NYU 2031.
We also demand that the University bargain fairly with our graduate worker allies at GSOC-UAW. We actively support GSOC in their continuing struggle for a fair contract. The unnecessary petulance of the NYU bargaining team must end.
We write this letter because the NYU administration has consistently refused to engage meaningfully with our requests to participate in their decision making. We have never been granted a meeting with President John Sexton, despite years of requesting a meeting to address our concerns. The administration’s attitude toward our organizing has been consistently flippant and dismissive.
President John Sexton and other administrators have consistently said that student well-being and increased financial aid are their priority. However, a look at NYU’s financial transactions reveals that this is not the case. Instead of figuring out ways to lighten the financial burden for students, the administration prioritizes NYU 2031 and administrator overcompensation. For example, NYU 2031 continues to move forward despite the dissent of 39 NYU departments and divisions, and the Greenwich Village community, which have been repeatedly expressed through the court appeals and trials they continue to initiate. Moreover, NYU 2031 is financially reckless, invoking $1.4 billion in long-term debt and $360 million in short-term debt. This in turn will require millions of dollars to service this debt. While debt service made up a mere 3.8% of NYU’s budget in 2003, it is now approximately 6% with a projected increase up to 7% by 2021. This ever-increasing burden to service debt has been one of the contributing factors to NYU’s rising cost; and unlike student debt, this debt is financed by banks. This amounts to students paying massive amounts for debt service with NYU serving as the middle man.
We are also deeply distressed by the implicit racism and bigotry that informs NYU’s institutional operations. By pressuring low-income students into accepting predatory private loans and requiring prospective students to check a box declaring previous experience with the racist criminal justice system, NYU reproduces the same systems of exclusion, prejudice, and violence that an institution like ours should confront.
Gross overcompensation packages also characterize the operations of the University administration, such as President Sexton’s scheduled $2.5 million “length of service” bonus, which he would receive on top of his pre-existing salary, $1.5 million, and $800,000 annual pension upon retirement in 2016. So we know there is money, and that it is going to NYU’s expansion and administration, not its students. The university has made its priorities blatantly clear in its budget.
SLAM is a student-led organization that believes in taking direct action to advance social justice. Last year, we successfully occupied the the NYU Welcome Center to demand that NYU end its relationship with the abusive apparel manufacturer Jansport. We disrupted dozens of prospective student tours, informing prospective students and their parents of the University’s unwillingness to meaningfully address the problem of student debt on this campus. This semester, we’ve participated actively in the efforts of our graduate worker union– GSOC-UAW– to win a fair contract. We have much more planned and as our group continues to grow so too will our capacity to engage in greater disruption.
This university is broken. Even though this institution is increasingly built from the staggering economic burden of its student body, students have no meaningful way to intervene in the University’s finances, or even to learn about them. This needs to change.
We are confident in our ability to create a better university. SLAM has been steadily organizing more and more students to create change on campus, and other organizations have formed to express their own outrage at the way this university is run. We’re building power and we will see change.
Student & Labor Action Movement
A number of other organizations in the NYU community have also signed on to this letter in support of our demands. They are:
NYU Queer Union
NYU Incarceration to Education Coalition
NYU Students for Justice in Palestine
NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan
NYU College Democrats
NYU Branch – International Socialist Organization
This letter was sent to all members of NYU’s board of trustees and senior administrators including President Sexton.