New York University, Abu Dhabi

John Gravois in The National:

ScreenHunter_04 Jul. 17 10.07 His fortnightly trips to the UAE are a symbol of his devotion to one of the most audacious, ambitious and strange projects in academia today, the creation of New York University, Abu Dhabi. With his Emirati counterparts, [John] Sexton is proposing to build an American-style research and liberal arts institution that will attract the world’s most elite students and scholars from day one. Just as grandly, Sexton envisions the Abu Dhabi campus as a kind of network hub that will operate in tandem with NYU in Manhattan to power a new “global university” comprising study sites on five continents. And as if all that were still too modest, Sexton believes these global moves will slingshot NYU into the ranks of the Ivy League. If the Abu Dhabi and New York campuses aren’t both ranked among the world’s top 10 universities in 20 years, he says, he’ll consider the whole undertaking a failure.

Thirty years ago, NYU was a poorly endowed commuter school on the brink of collapse, whose only salvation was the sale of a university-owned pasta factory. The school’s administrators, realising they could no longer survive in this local niche, set out to reinvent the university as an elite institution. Since then, NYU and its leaders have scrapped and fought to distinguish themselves, furiously raising money and then furiously spending it on reputational capital – chiefly star professors, Manhattan real estate and, more recently, international programmes. Under Sexton, who was named president in 2001, NYU’s strategy of upward mobility has reached a kind of apotheosis. Last year, he concluded the largest academic fundraising campaign in US history. Under his watch, NYU has been called “the success story in contemporary American higher education” – but for Sexton and NYU, the uphill battle for status never ends.

More here.