On Wednesday, Mar. 9, at 10:13 pm, faculty mailboxes dinged with an announcement from Provost Joanna Waley-Cohen. “As you may have heard, the Global Academic Fellow (GAF) Program has been phased out in NYU Abu Dhabi, and it will be phased out here as well.”
The Academic Resource Center (ARC) plans on shifting their academic support plan from a GAF-focused model to a peer tutoring program, initially coordinated by GAFs. The GAF positions next year are a Returning (and New) Writing GAF, various Senior GAFs for Coordination among the different academic tracks, Senior GAF for Academic Skills & Coaching Coordination, and ARC Coordinator – eight positions in all (with multiple people in some positions), in comparison to the 30 GAFs this year and the original 38 planned for next year.
John Robertson, Head of Academic Affairs, cited a combination of factors that led to the decision: GAFs were an expensive solution to a temporary problem, students are maturing, and there has been much growth in the academic units. “We were actually at a crossroads,” Robertson said. “We were prepared to hire a whole new cohort of GAFs, but we were told to wait. And now, we aren’t hiring those new GAFs, we are shifting to the new model.”
Some departments have already begun planning their transition. “We’re going to have some peer tutors: seniors coming back or rising sophomore students who will serve as a peer tutor, supervised by a GAF,” Yuxin Chen, head of the Business and Finance department, said. “Also we’re going to hire a full-time teaching support person to help the recitation sessions and also that person will be given the responsibility to hire more people, either full-time or part-time associates in teaching support.”
Alexandru Grigoras is currently a peer tutor for the Introduction to Computer Programming class and approves of the model. “I think it’s a program that could be really useful for this school, because peer tutoring seems to work. Students can explain better to other students since they have learned the material more recently and they also understand the techniques that students need in order to learn,” Grigoras said. The peer tutoring model, according to Robertson, will also be a “reduction in costs, because students working hourly is a lot less expensive than flying GAFs out.”
The announcement of the transformation of the program was met with surprise from various GAFs. “I was really disappointed by the way the whole thing was decided and also announced,” Writing GAF Olivia Bergen said. “We found out because an email was sent out asking for replacements before we were even aware of the fact that the program was ending.” GAFs were supposed to hear back on their applications to return to NYU Shanghai in February, but had no official communication until the email from Waley-Cohen. “The GAF Program is probably rather expensive to run for the university,” Bergen expanded, “so I understand wanting to cut budget and maybe put that money somewhere else, but it also doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would be a last minute decision.”
Some faculty members are also not in favor of the transformation at this time. “I am trying to resist these changes for a year while we can implement good replacement solutions,” David Fitch, Dean of Arts and Sciences, said in response to OCA’s request for comment.
“Once this semester began, it was time to start thinking about next year and so this is the time to start thinking about all these things,” Vice Chancellor Lehman said when asked why the decision was not made until March. “It’s just when we started focusing, we’re doing a lot of things.” Vice Chancellor Lehman and Provost Joanna Waley-Cohen were the two key members of the university leadership who made the decision. They are confident that they have made the right decision. “The functions of the GAFs are going to be redistributed in various ways, and I don’t expect it will cost any less, but I think it will be more effective,” Provost Joanna Waley-Cohen said. “I think there will be more time given to teaching, to be totally honest, since the GAF Program has been sort of a fellowship that is part-research, part-teaching.”
GAF Daniel Cuesta explained, “for the fellowship component, on average, we are tasked with five hours a week of research, which is really hard to do given that our other tasks require us to prioritize that over our own projects.” Writing & Speaking GAF Chang Zhao expanded that GAFs “received 1000 kuai to do a year-long research project.”
GAFs have been involved in many departments at the university, as well as fulfilling general student advising roles. “Students from all levels can go to GAFs to consult with them for writing program classes, for upper-level classes, writing cover letters, writing applications, doing presentations, any sort of speaking, writing, reading skills.” Daniel Keane, a professor in the NYU Shanghai Writing Department said. “We have strong affection for them because they are writing GAFs and we are the writing program, but they are designed to be a service to the whole university.” Apart from academics, Student Life will effectively be losing four full-time employees. “I’m confident that we will have a plan to enable all the programs that depend on the support of the GAFs to move forward well,” Dean Charlene Viscont, Head of Student Life, said.
“Having been here since the first year, I know that the first year was like hell compared to this year,” GAF Daniel Cuesta remembers. “We were really short-staffed as a university, so GAFs were always the GAF tape, that’s what they called us. You could stick us on something and remove it and everything would be fine.”
Head of the NYU Shanghai GAF Program Cydney Delia is sorry to see that the current GAF program is transitioning. “It’s difficult for all of us because the GAFs are a really important resource to the university and they’ve supported a number of students to pass classes, do better in classes – for that reason it’s difficult.” In regards to the decision-making process, Delia said that “it was swift. It was surprising. We’re just really committed to working hard so there’s no impact to students and faculty.”
“It’s just nice to know that we at least helped shape something,” Cuesta explained. “Even though the program isn’t permanent, part of the contribution of building something was what got us excited to be here – like students being pioneering students, being part of the first class, second class, third class of NYU Shanghai, thinking ‘I want to do that.’ I think that we’ll just have to settle with that feeling.”
This article was written by Allison Chesky. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Zhang Zhan