This morning’s New York Times features Marty Lipton taking umbrage at the idea that anyone would raise questions about why NYU is lavishing seven-figure annual compensation packages on the Great and the Good in its midst:
Luring the Best to N.Y.U.
June 20, 2013
To the Editor:
Re “N.Y.U. Gives Its Stars Loans for Summer Homes” (front page, June 18):
The board and the leadership team of New York University have led a sustained and successful effort to transform N.Y.U. from a regional university into a world-class residential research university. This has been done by recruiting, retaining and building a community of outstanding scholars, as well as experienced, innovative leadership. It is one of the great success stories in the history of modern higher education.
None of this happened by accident, and none of it happened in a vacuum; other top universities actively compete against us to recruit the same top faculty and academic leaders. N.Y.U.’s loan programs have been, are and will remain a legitimate, appropriate and successful part of attracting, retaining and compensating top scholars and innovative academic leaders.
The board remains wholly committed to continuing the mission of sustaining the academic momentum that has brought N.Y.U. so far. We are wholly confident in N.Y.U.’s president, John Sexton, whose own innovative leadership has done so much at the law school and the university to maintain the university’s upward trajectory.
Chairman, N.Y.U. Board of Trustees
New York, June 20, 2013
Lipton, who is a founding partner of the world’s most profitable large law firm, is here repeating John Sexton’s carefully crafted narrative that Sexton has been a “transformative” figure at NYU, first at the law school, where he was Dean between 1988 and 2002, and as NYU’s president, the post he’s held for the last 11 years. But has Sexton actually “maintained an upward trajectory” for NYU’s institutional reputation?
In the law school world, it’s a constantly repeated platitude that Sexton, more than any other dean, successfully gamed the US News rankings system, in part through a relentless publicity campaign, which among other things invented the loathsome genre dubbed “law porn” by Pam Karlan. By doing so, the story goes, he improved NYU’s reputational status enough to significantly improve its ranking in the law school hierarchy, thereby achieving an almost unprecedented and much-envied feat.
It’s perhaps a symptom of the general lack of empirical skepticism or basic curiosity among legal academics that this story can be exploded by spending a few minutes with a search engine. The US News law school rankings began on an annual basis in 1990, which means they provide a perfect vehicle for testing this hypothesis, given that Sexton’s first academic year as dean was 1988-89 (this is the year that formed the basis for the 1990 USN rankings).
NYU was the 6th-ranked law school in the 1990 USN rankings. 12 years later, at the conclusion of Sexton’s deanship, (and after a massive expansion of the school’s operating budget, and, not coincidentally, the doubling of its tuition) NYU was ranked . . . 5th. I suppose that can count as “maintaining an upward trajectory,” if you give a sufficiently liberal definition to the phrase.
What about Sexton’s presidency? The year before he took over, NYU was ranked 33rd among American universities by USN. Last year the school had risen to . . . 32nd.
Clearly, the only “upward trajectory” here has been in Sexton’s unmerited reputation, and relatedly, his compensation, which among other things now features a lifetime annuity of $800,000 per year once he chooses to retire. All of this, of course, is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, because NYU is a “non-profit” institution.