The dean of New York University’s Tisch School of The Arts sent students a two-minute video of herself dancing to REM’s ‘Losing my Religion’ as part of her response to calls for a refund partial tuition fee. Like many schools, the university moved students off campus and switched to distance learning amid the coronavirus crisis.
The transition has resulted in students at the School of the Arts requesting 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.
The students argued that their tuition covers in-person instruction and equipment for acting, dance, production and film classes, which distance learning cannot provide. A Change.org petition to reimburse part of the tuition fees collected more than 2,500 signatures on Friday afternoon.
In response to the refund request, Tisch Dean Allyson Green emailed students on March 22, writing, “I’m told there isn’t much confidence at the moment. One of between you wrote that remote learning would be cheaper for us, and if you don’t have access to the equipment and facilities, it’s not worth it.”
Green said she doesn’t have “the authority to reimburse tuition” and that it would be “difficult…at this perilous time.”
“Having to switch to remote learning in the midst of a global pandemic in two weeks generates no revenue,” Green wrote. “It’s actually costing the school and university millions more, as they immediately turned to help students relocate or return, and to prepare faculty and staff for unexpected new tasks.”
According to Green, the majority of the school’s budget is spent on teachers’ salaries. She added that the campus continues to pay for facilities and equipment whether students have access to them or not.
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’s the song she plays to “carry on 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 beyond our control”.
“That’s how I feel, but it’s also a great song that helps me keep dancing,” she wrote. “And one day, in person, I want to dance with all of you again. Is that just a dream? Well, that’s the one I’ll keep dreaming about.”
Many students part of NYU Tisch’s partial tuition refund effort – which describes itself as a “coalition of more than 620 Tisch students across eight majors” who feel their “educational needs are unmet – said they found Green’s email unsatisfactory, and the video embarrassing.
Marissa Bay Riggs, an acting major at the school, said she could appreciate “Green’s impetus to want to spread some positivity in this time of stress and uncertainty,” but noted that “it doesn’t does nothing to find solutions that work for students who are losing the education they worked so hard for.”
“Sending a dance video to the Tisch student body as students jostle for housing, funds and a semblance of normality feels quietly jarring,” Riggs said, adding that the email “comes in response to a backlash blunt regarding a previous email she sent in which the news that we weren’t getting a refund was buried in a paragraph of platitudes.”
In a letter the students write to the administration shared with CBS News, the reimbursement effort said that “it may be true that distance learning has cost the university as much money as the said Dean Green, but it’s do not what the students paid. We found the online format untenable. The students also listed a number of demands, including partial tuition reimbursement, protected salaries and salary continuity for faculty and staff, resources to help displaced students and increased transparency in communications. .