N.Y.U. Outflanks Texas for New Leader

New York University picks head of Oxford University to replace longtime president John Sexton.

March 19, 2015
Andrew Hamilton

New York University on Wednesday chose the Oxford University head Andrew Hamilton to replace longtime president John Sexton.

The university’s selection is also a blow to the University of Texas at Austin's presidential search. Hamilton, a former provost at Yale University, was considered the leading contender to lead Texas, one of the nation’s largest public universities.

Instead, Hamilton will become president of one of the nation’s largest private nonprofits. Sexton announced his retirement last August. Hamilton has been Oxford vice chancellor since 2009. The vice chancellor position is equivalent to an American university president's job and has a fixed term in office of seven years. (Editor's note: N.Y.U. is one of the nation's largest private nonprofit universities. It is not the largest, as an earlier version of this article stated.)

N.Y.U. conducted an eight-month search that began with over 200 candidates before it unanimously chose Hamilton, who will assume office in January.

Sexton is a former law dean who has been president since 2001. A leader with grandiloquent tendencies, Sexton was intent on building N.Y.U. into a global university, a plan that has drawn criticism for overstretching the university and endangering the academic freedom of professors abroad. He’s also known as affable, prone to giving hugs.

Hamilton said he had kept an eye on N.Y.U.’s global expansion efforts, first at Yale University, where he was provost, and then from across the Atlantic Ocean while at Oxford.

Hamilton said he would work on consolidating the operation of N.Y.U.’s global campuses and centers to ensure everything is "well integrated" and that there is a strong flow of students from the main campus in Manhattan to other locations and from abroad to the main campus.

He also addressed news this week that an outspoken N.Y.U. professor had been denied entrance to Abu Dhabi, where the university has one of its campuses.

“Academic freedom has been a bedrock in my career,” Hamilton said. “For me, it’s a bedrock for the success of great universities and, in that regard, it’s nonnegotiable for how academic success works.”

The University of Texas System has not divulged the names of the finalists for job in Austin, but it had been widely reported that Hamilton was among them. The Austin American-Statesman, citing a person with knowledge of the search, said UT-Austin Provost Gregory Fenves is now the leading candidate.

The UT-Austin job has been a fraught one. Current president Bill Powers outlasted efforts to unseat him, but his reputation may have been affected by auditors who determined Powers's administration might have given preferential admission to some students with moneyed ties or politically influential backers. Powers defended himself by saying other universities do such things, too.


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