The dean of New York University's Tisch School of The Arts sent students a two-minute-long video of herself dancing to R.E.M.'s "Losing my Religion" as part of her response to calls for a partial tuition refund. Like many schools, the university has moved students off campus, and switched to remote teaching amid the coronavirus crisis.
The transition led students at the arts school to call for a partial tuition refund for the remainder of their semester. Spring 2020 tuition and fees at Tisch typically cost $29,276, according to the school's website.
Students have argued that their tuition covers in-person teaching and equipment for classes on acting, dance, production, and film, which remote learning cannot provide. A Change.org petition to refund partial tuition garnered over 2,500 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
In response to the request for refunds, Tisch Dean Allyson Green sent students an email on March 22, writing: "I am told there is not a lot of trust right now. One of you wrote that remote learning will be cheaper for us, and if you don't have access to the equipment and facilities it is not worth it."
Green said that she does not have the "authority to refund tuition," and that doing so would be "challenging... at this perilous moment."
"Having to switch to remote learning in the midst of a global pandemic in two weeks is not revenue making in the slightest," Green wrote. "This is in fact costing the school and the University millions more, as they have turned immediately to help students move or return, and to prepare faculty, staff for unexpected new duties."
According to Green, a majority of the school's budget goes towards faculty salaries. She added that the campus continues to pay for facilities and equipment, whether or not students have access to them.
At the end of her email, however, Green — who, according to NYU's website, is a "choreographer, visual artist, curator and arts educator" — attached a video of herself dancing to the song "Losing my Religion." She wrote that it is the song she plays to "keep going in times of distress," and invited students to "dance along."
Green explained that the song "is not about losing faith, but a southern expression for losing patience, feeling frustration, or anger at circumstances that are out of our control."
"That's how I feel, but it's also a great song that helps me to keep dancing," she wrote. "And one day in person I want to dance again with all of you. Is that just a dream? Well it's one I will keep dreaming."
Many students part of the NYU Tisch Partial Tuition Refund Effort — which describes itself as a "coalition of over 620 Tisch students across all eight majors" who feel their "educational needs are not being fulfilled" — said they found Green's email dissatisfying, and the video embarrassing.
Marissa Bay Riggs, a senior acting major at the school, said she could appreciate Green's "impulse to want to spread some positivity in this time of stress and uncertainty," but noted "it does nothing to reach solutions that work for the students who are losing out on the education they worked so hard for."
"To send a dance video to the Tisch student body while students are scrambling for housing, funds, and a semblance of normalcy feels jarringly tone deaf," Riggs said, adding that the email "came on the heels of backlash regarding a previous email she sent in which the news of us not getting a refund was buried in a paragraph of platitudes."
In a letter the students are drafting to the administration shared with CBS News, the refund effort said that "it may be true that remote learning has cost the university as much money as Dean Green stated, but it is not what the students have paid for. We have found the online format to be untenable." The students also listed a number of demands, including a partial refund of tuition, protected salaries and pay continuity for faculty and staff, resources to help displaced students, and increased transparency in communications.