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John Sexton is the 15th president of New York University. He served as the Chairman of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York until 2008. He co-authored[…]

Pursuing a global reach and competing against Harvard.

John Sexton: NYU starts with a spectacular asset, which is our inheritance.  That is the first two words of our name--New York.  We start with this spectacular city, which as we enter this century is a kind of foreshadowing of the world that will be as the century unfolds.  I have created this word which allies global and local, to talk about New York as the first glocal city--global and local simultaneously.  The world is miniaturizing.  When I grew up, it was possible to think about gating yourself off from people that were different from you or

ideas that you didn’t want to hear or that you found offensive.  Today, gating strategies are impossible, whether they be physical gating strategies, economic gating strategies, or intellectual gating strategies.  The world is miniaturizing.  New York is the first example of a fully miniaturized world.  There are other great world cities, but there’s no city that completely miniaturizes the world the way New York does.  I am a fan of Dan Docktoroff and Jay Kriegel and their attempt to get the Olympics for New York.  But I said to them from the beginning, and we started talking in the early 1990’s, that more important than trying to get the Olympics, because that was simply the icing on the cake, was the story that they told of New York, the wonderful data that they derived and began to weave into a story of our community.  Listen to this.  Of the 202 countries that were at the Athens Olympics, 199 of those countries are represented in the New York City public school system by kids that were born in those countries.  The cardinal archbishop would say he’s got the other three countries covered in the Catholic school system.  You could taste the bread of every country in this city.  You could hear the language of every country in this city.  You actually could visit, really visit, not Epcot Center visit but really visit people, old timers.  Forty percent of the citizens of this city were born in other countries.  This city is the first example of the whole world miniaturized.  We are an experiment in whether or not you can create a community out of those microcommunities without
homogenizing. When I grew up they used to talk about the melting pot.  We’re going to turn American into some great Velveeta cheese of humanity.  No, no.  We now realize that would be giving up.  We spend all kinds of time.  We’re now post-environmental movement.  We understand you spend all kinds of money to save the snail darter.  Biodiversity is good.  Human diversity is good.  Intellectual diversity is good.  This is a wonderful gift from God.  We don’t want to homogenize.  We want to create communities of microcommunities.  New York is the first experiment in what the whole world is going to be.  Really the future of humankind, in a way, depends upon are we, as humankind, going to be able to create a community of microcommunities, maintaining the diversity of the communities while building bridges and tunnels and connecting?  So humanity begins to operate like a great watch of interconnecting parts, not isolated from each other, but a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts.  I have a doctorate in religion trained by the Jesuits, so I tend to think in tardyon terms about a kind of noosphere, where there’s a whole different way of existence for humankind as we really begin in an analogy to the ecumenical movement in the Catholic Church back in the 1960’s.  We really begin to see that there’s an advantage to seeing the various facets of the diamond, not just the single facet through which we live.  So New York is the first experiment in that.  NYU starts with that asset.  At the research university presidents’ meetings, we would sit alphabetically.  Larry Summers from Harvard would sit next to me, because I’m S-E, he’s S-U.  I would turn to him and I would say, “You know, Larry, you’ve got the greatest brand in education.”  Even when they made the movie The Great Debators, when the team gets to debate in the finals, it was actually USC

that was the national champion that James Farmer debated against in the true story.  They changed it to Harvard, because Harvard’s the brand.  If you want to have them debate the best, they’ve got to debate Harvard.  It can’t be USC or NYU.  I said, “Larry, you’ve got the best brand in education, but I’ve got the best location.  Brand can change, but you can’t move.”  So there we are.  We’re right in this city, this wonderful city.  We’re in it in a special way.  Albert Gallatin, who was Jefferson and Madison’s secretary of treasury, founded NYU in 1831, because he wanted to create a university unlike the universities of his day, which were withdrawn, in the country, contemplative.  He wanted a university “in and of the city.”  So we embrace the city.  There’s not a single gate on campus, no quadrangle to which you can retreat.  You walk out of our buildings, usually to the right and to the left, across the street, no NYU building.  You’re ecosystematic in the city.  There’s only one thing you can step on--sidewalk.  You’re in the city.  Then we take being in that local city and we extrapolate it out into the world.  If you come to NYU as a student, we expect you to spend at least one semester abroad.  We have created a dozen study abroad sites on four continents other than North America, which we run with our professors and our courses and you can register for a continent as easy as you register for a course.  Now if you’re in our Stern Undergraduate School of Business and you’re in the top quarter of the class, you qualify for Stern World.  With NYU professors, NYU courses, you take five semesters in Washington Square, one semester in London, one semester in

Shanghai, and one semester in Buenos Aires.  It’s a different kind of business education.  It’s the same if you’re studying film.  You can do one semester Europe, one semester Asia, one semester Latin America.  It’s a whole different education.  Then finally, what we’ve done now, because we now realize and this is part of the sign that if we’re not careful, America’s dominance in higher education is not going to endure.  There used to be a river of talent that came to the United States for higher education, kind of a powerful river of talent.  About ten years ago, two big tributaries opened up upstream.  Europe unified its educational system and said that by 2016 they wanted to be bringing in as many students from outside of Europe to Europe as the United States was bringing in from outside the United States.  The second tributary was Australia and New Zealand.  They did the same thing.  Then 9-11 happened and we started putting up a dam on that river.  Now you’ve got the tributaries and you’ve got the dam.  Then about five years ago, two huge reservoirs opened up upstream.  China began to build ten research universities a year and India began building three a year to keep their talent home.  Now the talent doesn’t come so much to the United States.  There are conversations going on around the world that we won’t be in unless we go out to be in them.  The best faculty and the disciplines are already in that conversation.  They’re going to conferences or they’re on the Internet.  But there’s no institution so far, and NYU is the first that is doing this, that incarnates itself into, that is institutionally present in those conferences.  We start with the study abroad campuses.  Now what

we’ve done and the first one we’re doing is a campus in Abu Dhabi, one of the great crossroads of the world.  We’re going out and we’re going to create a campus like the Washington Square campus to which students can come from around the world and spend their entire eight semesters there.  I’m focusing principally on undergraduate, but the same thing would be true in graduate.  Spend their entire time there or spend five semesters there, come to New York as a study abroad experience, go to London as a study abroad experience, go to Beijing or Accra or Mexico City as a study abroad experience.  The idea is then to network all of this in what we’re calling a global network university.  So that if you’re a student in Abu Dhabi and you’re taking four courses, three of them will be in Abu Dhabi with an Abu Dhabi instructor, just as if you were in New York, that would be the case.  But you will be allowed to take a quarter of your courses through technology, immersive classrooming and so forth anywhere in the system.  So you could sit in Abu Dhabi and take a course that’s being offered in Ghana, for example.  And this will be a full integration of the community of NYU faculty and students into the conversations that are going on at the highest level around the world.  So it is trying to create in the university an analog to the world of ideas where there’s this matrix system of these idea capitals, six or eight or ten or twelve of them.  We want to be, as a university, in each of those idea capitals and allow our students and faculty to flow through them as they wish.  So if you’re in the economics department, you could say to your department chair, “Two years from now, I’d appreciate it if you would assign me to our campus on” and you name a continent and a city, “because I and my family would like to spend a period of our lives there.”  Your department chair could accommodate you.

Recorded on 5/29/08