Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009

John Sexton

Plenty of university presidents don't teach. John Sexton, however, gives a seminar every few weeks on religion and the U.S. Supreme Court — a commitment made all the more remarkable by the fact that his classroom is nine time zones east of New York City. But if he has his way, that kind of commute will soon be commonplace: NYU Abu Dhabi, the first full-fledged liberal-arts campus abroad run by an American university, will open its doors next fall. (Sexton's seminar in the U.A.E. capital is helping lay the groundwork.) Students in the two cities will be chosen by comparable admissions procedures and work toward the same degrees, taking classes in what Sexton envisions as a giant network of universities and talent slung around the globe. They'll also share professors: the same team of genomics researchers, for instance, might run a lab in New York City and another in Abu Dhabi, shuttling back and forth to cull ideas. On top of a $50 million "gift" to jump-start the enterprise, Abu Dhabi has agreed to bankroll the whole Middle East campus and throw in some funding for NYU's Manhattan base. Similar glittering incentives have helped inspire Northwestern to offer journalism courses in Qatar and Harvard Medical School to set up shop in Dubai. Which means Sexton may be the first American university president to oversee a sister campus in the Persian Gulf, but he's unlikely to be the last. —Laura Fitzpatrick