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Exclusive: Will Linda G. Mills be N.Y.U.’s first female president?

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | It’s no secret that New York University is about to appoint a new president. A successor to current President Andrew Hamilton, in fact, may have already been selected — but, if so, the person’s identity is apparently being tightly guarded.

On Monday The Village Sun got a tip that the nearly 200-year-old institution— America’s largest private university — actually may be poised to name its first-ever female president — if the tip proves correct, Linda G. Mills.

A university spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests seeking confirmation.

Mills is currently N.Y.U.’s vice chancellor and senior vice provost for global programs and university life, as well as the school’s inaugural Lisa Ellen Goldberg professor.

According to her N.Y.U. bio, Mills “oversees student life and a global portfolio that includes oversight of and strategic planning for study away at N.Y.U.”

She is also co-chaiperson of the N.Y.U. advisory board of the Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership, which she founded with Chelsea Clinton.

Mills is also executive director of the N.Y.U. Production Lab, “a storytelling incubator” for students focused on careers in creative industries.

Mills is also an accomplished film producer. In 2010, she co-produced and co-directed the documentary “Auf Wiedersehen: ‘Til We Meet Again,” a film exploring the intergenerational transmission of trauma from the Holocaust to 9/11. She was also the director, with Chelsea Clinton as executive producer, of the documentary short “Of Many,” an inspiring narrative of friendship between N.Y.U.’s Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

Mills’s position as the Lisa Ellen Goldberg professor also has a multifaith aspect. Goldberg was the wife of former N.Y.U. president John Sexton, president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation and a force in philanthropy and the Jewish community. The Lisa Ellen Goldberg Fellowship, established at the N.Y.U. Wagner School, is awarded to rising leaders in public service “with a passion for storytelling and a commitment to making an impact in multifaith communities.”

It was Sexton who coined and promoted the term “glocal” for N.Y.U. — meaning a university that is both global and local.

In addition, Mills is the principal investigator of National Science Foundation- and National Institute of Justice-funded studies in Salt Lake City, Utah, focusing on treatment programs for domestic violence offenders.

Robert Reiss told the newspaper he was visiting a friend at Greenwich House’s Senior Center on the Square, on Washington Square North, on Monday when he noticed a promo-type segment being filmed in front of the adjacent townhouse just to the east. The building is the local headquarters of N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi, the university’s 12-year-old program in the wealthy Persian Gulf Arab Emirates city.

The man speaking into the camera was identified to Reiss as the dean at N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi, he said. However, the program has a number of deans.

“There may be more than one dean in the building,” the tipster noted.

Saying this is what he overheard verbatim, Reiss relayed that the dean said, “Mills is passionate about New York City. Mills knows the territory. And Mills is a good president of N.Y.U.”

When he inquired what the shoot was for, he was told, “We’re filming a presentational video.”

The filmers didn’t seem concerned that a closely guarded secret might be being exposed.

“They certainly didn’t seem to care about my presence,” Reiss sniffed, suspecting they might have considered him to be just “a nobody.”

Descended from several generations of Greenwich Village artists, the unassuming Reiss is like a ubiquitous, local Zelig but with a nose for news.

“He seemed to be uttering canned, formulaic, public-affairs speak,” Reiss shrugged of the dean’s patter. “But he was emoting these lines with brio — almost like a seasoned broadcaster — with canned, over-the-top brio.”

Reiss speculated that the dean’s emphasizing that Mills is “passionate about New York” and “knows the territory” was meant to convey that she is “not just a globalist — that she’s in touch with New York City.”

In addition to Abu Dhabi, N.Y.U. has a total of 13 other global centers, including ones in Accra, Shanghai, Berlin, Florence, Sydney, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, among others.

Reiss said he also spoke to another N.Y.U. dean on the block who told him, regarding the search for a new university president, “I know there was one to be announced,” and “It should be announced soon,” but did not know any further details.

Similarly, Mark Crispin Miller, an N.Y.U. professor of  media studies, told The Village Sun he had not heard anything about Mills possibly being named president. He forwarded to the newspaper an e-mail note to the university community from Andrew Hamilton sent this month, signed “Andy,” indicating Hamilton is still in place.

Hamilton, a chemist and academic, has led the university since January 2016. As opposed to his predecessor, the effusive, bear-hugging Sexton, Hamilton has been not just low key during his tenure but “super low key,” as one local N.Y.U. observer put it. He was expected to step down sometime during this acadmic year, possibly right about now.

“It may be that only a select number of people are in the loop,” regarding the new president’s identity, Reiss offered of the seeming information blackout.

“It’s a national story,” he stressed. “She would be the first female president for N.Y.U. — and there’s the connection to Abu Dhabi.”

Then again, maybe the video was merely being done because Mills is one of a number of candidates being considered for the next president — a sort of internal promotional video — and the selection has not been made yet.

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