NYU Shanghai Engineering Leaves Students Behind in the Name of Expansion

"After four years of hard work, thousands of dollars in tuition, and in the midst of preparing for one of the most, if not the most, important day of their academic careers, Casillas and his classmates were thrown into a world of confusion, worry, and anger." Hafeeza Mughal covers NYUSH's lack of ABET accreditation and its effect on Engineering students.

In the days leading up to New York University Shanghai’s first graduation on May 28,
2017 Casillas Sun, an electrical engineering major, and his classmates received an
unexpected request from the university’s administration to attend a meeting regarding
their major. One afternoon late in the second semester, Casillas and his fellow engineering
majors navigated the quiet halls of the eleventh floor with worry and confusion in their
chests. At the end of the hall they entered an office with tall windows to find a middle-aged
man hidden behind a large desktop: Keith Ross, the dean of Computer Science and
Engineering.

Like many college-bound teenagers, Casillas and his peers left their home to earn
their degrees in higher education. Unlike the typical college student they elected to be a
part of the first American-Sino joint education establishment approved by the Chinese
Ministry of Education. Since its opening in 2013, NYUSH has shown its fierce desire to fill the
shoes of its mother campus in New York City. It ushered
in its largest class to date by welcoming 345 students this past fall, surpassing its target size
of 300. The university has also expanded its number of offered majors. Most recently,
NYUSH announced in mid-October the launch of its newest major: “Interactive Media +
Business” (IMB). Furthermore, the university has plans to move to a new, larger residence
hall in 2022 to accommodate its increasing size.

Just as much as NYUSH is focused on expanding, it is also focused on globalization.
The university’s inherently international background is dually reflected in its student body
and its motto “Make the world your major”. The current freshman class represents over 71
countries and territories from around the world, including America, China, Pakistan, India,
Mexico, as well as many European and Latin American countries. The essence of NYUSH is
its diversity and passion for globalization. The university’s motto encourages students from
all walks of life to “ master [their] cross-cultural skills “ and become “global citizens”.

Yet as Casillas and his classmates listened to what the dean had to say, NYUSH’s
motto becomes less applicable. As they sat listening to Dean Ross, it became clear this
meeting wasn’t a congratulatory conference, but in fact it was a meeting notifying them that
their engineering degrees lacked accreditation. After four years of hard work, thousands of
dollars in tuition, and in the midst of preparing for one of the most, if not the most, important
day of their academic careers, Casillas and his classmates were thrown into a world of
confusion, worry, and anger. As Casillas simply put it “we were pissed off”.

Despite NYUSH’s emphasis on globalization, the engineering majors of the class of
2017 graduated without grounds for a US or international engineering license because
NYUSH had yet to seek ABET accreditation. According to the official website of ABET
(Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), its accreditation is the “official
educational standard against which professional engineers in the United States [are] held
for licensure” as well as the “basis of quality for over 40 disciplines all over the world”. ABET
accreditation paves the way for students to work globally because it is “recognized…through
international agreements”, is required by the US government and many multinational
corporations, and is the basis of “many other countries’ national accrediting systems”.
Furthermore, the official website emphasizes that ABET accreditation “enhances the
mobility of professionals” because it ensures they have met the educational requirements
needed to enter in their technical profession.

Dean Ross believes the lack of ABET accreditation “shouldn’t be an issue” because it
is only “really necessary if you’re going into power and energy” engineering fields since
they’re more technically demanding. He emphasized that most American employers only
focus on a potential employee’s transcript to determine if he is capable for the position he is
being considered for. Ross gave the example of how someone without ABET support could
still work at Google as an engineer in a less formal sense, holding a position closer to the
equivalent of an engineering guru or technical specialist. However, contrary to Ross’s beliefs
when many companies advertise for new hires they specify they want ABET accredited
graduates.

When asked if employers outside the US will also focus on the transcript Dean Ross
said, “I’ll have to look into that”.

After further research I discovered NYUSH is the only NYU campus without ABET
accreditation. Dean Ross said NYUSH doesn’t have accreditation, “because at the core, [it’s]
a liberal arts school…the classes needed for accreditation are too much for students to
handle in addition to the [type of] core curriculum” that comes with a liberal arts education.
Yet even as one of the most well known liberal arts universities in the world, NYU’s Tandon
School of Engineering in New York has an ABET accredited engineering school, despite its
liberal core curriculum. NYU Abu Dhabi has not only ABET accreditation but also CAA
(Commission for Academic Accreditation) accreditation in addition to its liberal core
Curriculum.

In addition to NYU and NYU Abu Dhabi, dozens of other liberal arts universities have
ABET accredited engineering programs. Columbia University, one of the most acclaimed
universities in the world, is a liberal arts school that provides ABET accredited engineering
majors. Harvey Mudd College is ranked first in U.S. News’ 2018 list of Best Undergraduate
Engineering Programs and is a private liberal arts school. Bucknell University, Cooper
Union, and the US Naval Academy are some of many more liberal art schools offer ABET
accredited engineering programs.

Dean Ross also cited insufficient faculty as another reason why NYUSH does not
have the accreditation. NYUSH’s Engineering faculty includes Dean Ross, Associate
Professors Herming Chieuh and Romain Corcolle, and Research Fellow Shuna Sun.
Compared to Tandon’s 160+ full time faculty members, NYUSH’s faculty is almost
non-existent. Anna Farhan, a current freshman, said that “really bad [engineering] faculty”
was what convinced her to no longer pursue an engineering degree, and “settle” with a
business degree. Similarly, Kate Thoma-Hillard, a current senior, decided during her junior
year to no longer pursue engineering after word spread from the meeting Casillas and his
classmates had with Dean Ross. The issues with accreditation and faculty have prompted
students like Anna and Kate to take drastic academic measures, including changing majors
and even considering transferring out of NYUSH.

In the midst of its rapid expansion, NYUSH seems to have forgotten to perform its
main function as a university: provide a certified degree in a subject of higher education to
its graduates. Without accreditation, engineering students have limited mobility and career
opportunities. Even though NYUSH is backed by one of the oldest, richest, and most
globalized universities, it fails to have an accreditation that is used around the world or the
faculty to support it. If NYUSH engineering graduates cannot fully function in their field, how
can they manifest the university`s promise to produce ̈global citizens ̈? As NYUSH
continues to focus on satisfying its developmental goals, it doesn’t seem to be prioritizing its
students. Consequently, students like Anna are left simply saying, “what’s the point”?

This article was written by Hafeeza Mughal. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: NYU Shanghai

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