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Founded in 1831 by a farsighted group of prominent New Yorkers, the “University of the City of New-York” (as NYU was originally known) was envisioned from the start as something new: an academic institution metropolitan in character, democratic in spirit, and responsive to the demands of a bustling commercial culture.

These portraits of John Brademas, L.Jay Oliva, John Sexton, and Andrew D. Hamilton portray the individuals who led the University for over 4 decades. The style of portraiture for each individual is distinct, reflecting each personality and creating a visual conversation across the 20th and 21st centuries.

1981–1991 John Brademas

Artist: Hernán Cortés Moreno, 1992
Oil on canvas
Object ID: mc_376_cuid18150

A former Indiana congressman and House Majority Whip, Brademas brought energetic fundraising and a passion for the arts and education to the presidency. He invited world leaders and renowned scholars to the campus as the University’s focus began to shift toward a more international view. In 2005, he founded NYU’s John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress, a home for informed and civil debate on politics and public policy.

1991–2002 L. Jay Oliva

Artist: John Howard Sanden, 2002
Oil on canvas
Object ID: mc_376_cuid18151

A professor of Russian history, Oliva became the first New York University faculty member to become its president. During his tenure, residential life at Washington Square blossomed with the construction of new student housing, study centers, classrooms, and laboratories. He also promoted global academic exchange through the League of World Universities.

2002–2015 John Sexton

Artist: Daniel Duffy, 2015
Oil on canvas
Object ID: mc_376_cuid18152

A former dean of the School of Law, Sexton advanced the University’s reach and stature tremendously, overseeing the largest increase in the number of Arts and Science faculty in the university’s history and restoring the field of engineering to NYU after a forty-year absence. A signature of his tenure was the establishment of campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai and the expansion of NYU’s network of global academic centers.

2016–2023 Andrew Hamilton

Artist: Jamie Lee McMahan, 2023
Oil on canvas
Object ID: mc_376_cuid18153

A noted chemist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Andrew Hamilton advanced NYU’s academic stature while skillfully leading NYU through the COVID-19 pandemic’s historic challenges. Applications for undergraduate admission came to exceed 100,000, leading to NYU’s most selective and diverse first-year class. He slowed the growth of tuition, greatly enhanced financial aid, and enrolled the first entering classes for which NYU met demonstrated need. And under his leadership, NYU attained all-time highs in both national and international university rankings, surpassed $1 billion in research spending, created its first centralized diversity office, and opened major new academic facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Shanghai.