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01/15/2011 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

NYU: The School That Ate New York?

John Sexton, NYU's president, is doing what he does best: selling. "You want to contrast the way NYU is in the city and Columbia is in the city," he tells me. Columbia's campus, sitting at the southern edge of Harlem, is a walled city, the more-than-metaphorical ivory tower. But at NYU, there's "not a single gate, not a single blade of grass," which isn't strictly true, but close enough for a great salesman burnishing his brand.

Sexton is seated at a conference table in his office on the top floor of NYU's Bobst Library, wearing rumpled navy slacks and a sky-blue sweatshirt from his alma mater, Brooklyn Prep. "Frankly, I dress this way anytime I have an excuse," he says. When Sexton became president, ten years ago, many believed his drive was to elevate NYU to compete with the Ivy League. In fact, his ambition is grander. He sees the city and the university as a single unit, a node of talent and creativity and, of course, money. And he's not marketing only to the country's bright high-school students but also to the global meritocracy.

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