NYSUT members at New York University have issued a bold challenge to departing NYU President John Sexton: Relinquish your $2.5 million retirement bonus, and instead designate it as financial aid for NYU students.
The Union of Clerical, Administrative & Technical Staff (UCATS), NYSUT’s local at NYU, has started an online petition at MoveOn.org — http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/financial-aid-not-golden/ — that puts its case to Sexton in blunt terms: “President Sexton, decline this unseemly $2.5 million bonus, pay back your loan, and ask the NYU Board of Trustees to direct that money to student financial aid.”
“This is for everyone who is offended by excessive executive pay and ballooning student debt,” UCATS President and NYSUT Board member Stephen Rechner says. “A number of our graduates are struggling with student debt.”
Sexton owes NYU $600,000 from a personal loan. The practice by the university of providing hefty personal loans to senior NYU executives is well established. Sexton’s is by no means the largest, Rechner says, but the combination of the loan, the retirement bonus and Sexton’s $1.5 million salary is a stark contrast to the struggle many NYU students and their families face in paying the university’s $54,000 annual tuition.
NYU has a long history of hiring its own graduates, and many of those new hires become UCATS members. The local knows how difficult it is for these young unionists to pay their student loans on starting salaries. While Sexton’s bonus cannot help recent graduates, it might alleviate the hardship for some future NYU students, Rechner says.
As for Sexton’s personal loan? “It’s been on the books for years, so it’s not going down,” Rechner says.
This is not the first time a NYSUT higher education affiliate has protested lavish compensation. Last year, the Professional Staff Congress, which represents 25,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York, organized a petition against a CUNY plan to pay former CIA director David Petraeus $150,000 for teaching one course. CUNY later cut Petraeus’ compensation to $1.
The UCATS campaign coincides with a national discussion about college student debt. Credible estimates place student loan debt for 40 million Americans at slightly more than $1 trillion. Student activist groups around the country are demanding that colleges and universities cut costs, and some higher education advocacy groups, such as the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE), have embraced the idea of free public higher education, which, they say, would be possible by retooling the current system of federal student loans and giving that money to colleges and universities to directly cover student costs.
Both United University Professions, which represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York’s state-operated campuses, and the PSC are members of CFHE.