Last month, the board of Polytechnic University bowed to pressure to hold off on approving a merger with New York University. But on Thursday, the trustees voted to approve the deal. While New York State officials must still approve the merger, Thursday's vote was a key hurdle -- as opponents have been hoping to block it from taking place.
The merger, which would be phased in, would combine two universities with the closest of ties to New York City. For Polytechnic, the combination could bring in new funds and a Manhattan connection for students. For NYU, the merger would fill in some key gaps. As NYU gained in national stature in the last 20 years, many have regretted that it dropped engineering programs (which were in fact absorbed by Poly). And with space at a premium in Manhattan, Poly's Brooklyn-based campus laboratories offer all kinds of opportunities.
The idea of joining forces has generally gone over well at NYU, but has met more skepticism -- and some outright opposition  -- at Poly. While NYU has an increasingly national and international student body, Poly's emphasis has been very much on New York City. Many alumni and some faculty and trustees at Poly have argued that their institution's values were likely to disappear once a merger is completed.
Many others have criticized the process for reviewing the deal -- a process in which many professors and alumni say questions about the merger have largely been squelched. The scheduled vote last month was put off after State Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle, chair of the New York Senate Higher Education Committee, expressed concerns and asked for a delay. LaValle was not available for comment Thursday on whether he was satisfied that his questions about the merger had been answered.
Craig Matthews, chair of the Polytechnic board, said in an interview after the meeting that he was elated by the outcome. He declined to say what the final vote was, but said that it exceeded the 75 percent supermajority required.
Matthews said that only "a very small minority" didn't agree with the merger, and that the board had "a healthy discussion" about their concerns. In the end, he said, there was agreement that "now it's time for everyone to support this merger."
Edward Sawchuck, an alumni leader opposed to the merger, said he was "very disappointed" in the vote. He said that the "complete agreements" were never released for a full review by alumni or professors, and that "the board never answered our questions."
Some alumni leaders have previously threatened to go to court to block a merger. Sawchuck said he didn't know what steps opponents of the plan would take.