On the eve of the historic inauguration of President Linda G. Mills as NYU’s first female president, hundreds of faculty, administrators and staff gathered in small groups around New York City to talk about their families, their work, the university, and the world. And in doing so, they actively participated in Mills’s call to spark connections, seek collaborations, and usher in a new era for NYU.
“Around the Table: A Night for Connection, Conversation and Celebration” kicked off the inauguration week Monday evening, when laughter and small talk could be heard around almost 80 tables in Manhattan and Brooklyn. From private homes to formal spaces at the law school and library, NYU colleagues pledged to forge relationships that will lead to the transformational change Mills believes is within reach.
“We wanted this to be a reflection of Linda’s commitment to the community’s flourishing,” said Ellen Schall, senior presidential fellow, who welcomed five administrators into her Washington Mews home. “The future of NYU isn’t just about who is president, but about the collective energy of the community.”
Response to the program was tremendous, leading to a larger number of hosts than expected and a waiting list for guests. A simple menu of chicken, salmon, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and brown rice was served at each gathering to groups that represented all areas of the university.
“I love the structure,” said Kari Miller, program director at NYU Washington, D.C. and one of Schall’s guests. “I'm an introvert and introverts thrive in small groups. This is very inclusive. The language of the invitation was really loving.”
Troy McKenzie, dean and Cecelia Goetz Professor of Law at NYU School of Law hosted colleagues from across the university in the Snow Dining Room on the fourth floor of Vanderbilt Hall. Ali Bodden, an administrator from GEMSS Office of the Registrar, Tim Savage, clinical assistant professor at the Schack Institute of Real Estate at SPS, and Steven Brams, professor of politics in Arts & Science, were among the first to arrive, finding a large table set for 16 in the middle of the room and the earthy aroma of sweet potatoes coming from the silver buffet trays set up in the corner.
Brams, who has taught at NYU for 53 years, was describing how he applies game theory mathematics to political and corporate decision-making to Savage, who has been with Schack for five years. When McKenzie joined them, the conversation meandered from current events to career paths, stopping on programs and teachers they knew and how an undergraduate politics course that McKenzie took at Princeton introduced him to the law.
McKenzie expressed his pleasure at hosting the meal to celebrate President Mills’s inauguration.
“It is important that she is the first female president and someone who is one of us, who has risen from the community to leadership,” he said.
“And this conversation,” he added, sweeping his arm toward his guests, “is testament to what Linda says she wants to do, to connect people across the university. That to me is very exciting.”
Waiting for her turn at the buffet, Julianne Parayo, an international student advisor in the Office of Global Services, described the event as “a blessing.”
“Building relationships on the granular level is important for a stronger community. We don't have that opportunity day to day,” said Parayo, who joined NYU during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Something so simple as a dinner, but starting from the leader. It’s a mood setter.”