Over 1000 students, professors, and university faculty in the NYU global network have signed a petition to NYU President Andrew Hamilton, objecting to the planned layoffs of five NYU Paris professors.
The petition began after NYU decided it would be ending the Liberal Studies (LS) program at NYU Paris for first-year students attending the New York campus. Its closure would result in layoffs of five LS professors who were reportedly on permanent work contracts.
The school informed the professors of the intended layoffs on August 25. According to Marina Davies, one of the professors included in the layoffs and the head elected employee representative at NYU Paris, the administration told employee representatives that the reason for the program closing was the costly relocation of student housing from the République neighborhood to the more expensive Montsouris area.
The financial difficulties cited by NYU has brought a controversy regarding transparency in university finances, especially regarding global sites. While the administration has chosen to close the Liberal Studies program at NYU Paris, it recently opened a first-year Liberal Studies program at NYU Madrid.
The NYU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released a statement on the issue:
“As faculty in New York, we have limited budget information about NYU in New York, and even less about its extensive global network… and the mutual financial relations and dependencies between the global sites and New York’s [dependencies]” [emphasis added].
The NYU Chapter of the AAUP maintains that NYU “has not only legal but ethical responsibilities to its extended community at each of its sites across the world.”
The chapter has also expressed support for the faculty named in the layoffs, and urged the administration to “justify its drastic measures by providing budgetary documentation for their claimed necessity.” French labor laws also require the administration to provide financial information to justify its decision.
French laws additionally require NYU to try to reassign professors on a permanent work contract to new classes, the administration has refused to consider, Davies said.
The community at NYU Paris has been deeply impacted by these decisions. For most of the professors targeted by the layoffs, NYU was their sole or main employer, according to Davies. Employee representatives have asked the NYU Paris administration to organize wellness workshops out of concerns for their colleagues.
The NYU chapter of the AAUP said in their statement, “we are distressed to learn about the sudden layoff of several of our colleagues at the NYU Paris site.”
The LS program in Paris had run for twelve years before its abrupt shutdown, which made its end all the more odd for its professors and alumni.
“The Paris LS program [was] so successful, so well liked by the students, and such an integral part of NYU Paris,” said Davies.
“I do know that in the past, the LS program was a stabilizing force in NYU Paris enrollment, because it guaranteed NYU Paris 60 students every academic year. It’s quite rare in study abroad to have a sure, guaranteed enrollment population like that.”
Jackie Hu, NYU Paris ‘17, commented on her experiences at NYU Paris, saying “NYU Paris gave me the most immersive experience in art and literature. It changed my perspective [on] aesthetics and ways of thinking, and I will appreciate this forever.”
When the university’s administration continued to defend their decision of firing the professors despite labor laws in place, the faculty organized a small rally on October 29, only a few hours before the second lockdown in Paris took place.
Soon after, the petition began circulating across the NYU global network. The petition, titled “In solidarity against an NYU Faculty layoff” was sent to President Hamilton on November 6. It calls for the university to find cheaper student housing, reassign the affected Liberal Studies professors to other courses, and if necessary, furlough of the professors as an alternative to the layoffs.
Almost 300 LS alumni have signed the petition, and many have contributed to an open letter detailing their experiences with the LS program, and expressing disappointment at its closure.
“The solidarity of the NYU global network is something we don’t want to compromise, so let’s make sure that each other’s voices are heard in this special time,” said alumna Jackie Hu.
When asked if the professors would continue to contest the administration’s decision, Davies replied:
“Yes. We have suggested several concrete and realistic alternatives to layoffs to the NYU administration, which we mention in our petition, and we are ready and willing to discuss them at any time.”
The petition is still collecting signatures now.
Photo Credit: Anna Letson, Washington Square News