Letter from the Editor: NYU Shanghai Still Isn’t For Normal People

NYU Shanghai offers no consistency except for the constant changes.

During the Class of 2018’s time at NYU Shanghai, the student body has more than doubled. In four years, we have seen three different cafeteria vendors and two different dorms, shifting from a motel where Resource Assistants were approached as hookers to suburbia far away from the city where we actually wanted to be. The GAF program was “phased out” and replaced by Learning Assistants and Writing & Speaking Fellows; the study away policy, arguably one of the greatest attractions for a majority of students, was changed from allowing three semesters to only two; NYU Shanghai testified at a US Congress Subcommittee Hearing entitled “Is Academic Freedom Threatened by China’s Influence on U.S. Universities?”; and there have been instances of regulations issued by the Chinese government that made us question how viable NYU Shanghai truly is, especially given that more than half of our funding comes from the Chinese government.

Enrolling and remaining a member of one of the first classes at the first Sino-US Joint University is clearly not an easy or simple task. Four years of university is difficult enough, without constant changes to university policy. As I look to graduate in a couple weeks, friends have remarked that college flies by. I disagree – university life at NYU Shanghai is positively jam-packed week to week, not to mention the individual path of each student. Personally, I have lived in five different dorms or apartments during my time at NYU Shanghai in three different countries. Not once have I entered into a new school year with more than 350 students that I knew previously. NYU Shanghai offers no consistency except for the constant changes.

This is only compounded by the manner in which shifts in policy are communicated. The GAF Program was modified through an email that copied the current GAFs – without having previously notified those that reapplied that their positions would be dissolved in the coming year. The study away policy was changed for current students through an email and students had to fight for face time with our dean of academics. The recent failures of the BASE dorms have been well-discussed, in which the university promised one thing and students were given a much different living experience. When the Chinese government announces a new regulation and our administration simply restates that our academic freedom is not at risk, it begs the question of how they can fully reassure us when the agreement founding this university (which reportedly promises us academic freedom) is confidential.

This is not to diminish the incredible achievements that NYU Shanghai has accomplished. Notably, the university will be offering its first Masters degree programs enrolling for June 2019, in conjunction with NYU Stern. NYU Shanghai does have immense support from the Chinese government, and a great relationship with the US Consulate in Shanghai. This is to say nothing of the research produced by our professors, their invitations to conferences across the globe, and the jobs secured by our recent graduates.

However, it has been a bumpy ride, and there are more changes to come. The school will relocate to a new campus in 2022 and plans on expanding to a student body totaling 2000, with aspirations to add more graduate programs. Next year NYUSH will again offer a new housing option to students in order to house the expansion of our student body.

I have extensively reported on the majority of the above developments in NYU Shanghai through this very newspaper over the past four years. I have no illusions about the difficulties that this school faces, and by no means have viewed the institution through rose-colored glasses.

Rather, throughout my four years here, I have (practically every day, not gonna lie, ask my friends) attempted to understand this university and how it functions from the bottom up through writing articles for this newspaper. I’ve conducted many, many interviews with students, professors and administration alike, as well as read all of the transcripts of the US Congress Subcommittee Hearings and, in fact, translated the school’s financial disclosures. I’ve been a fairly unbiased commentator on NYU Shanghai (except for opinion articles) and would now like to take the opportunity to pass judgment.

First, a bit more about me so you do understand my bias: I applied to transfer from NYU Shanghai not once but twice. Really, to any school that had an open application for freshman spring and sophomore year transfer students. I wasn’t too picky about the criteria besides it not being NYU Shanghai.

So, why did I decide to stay at NYU Shanghai?

NYU Shanghai teaches its students to be resilient. The challenges I laid out for you above do not make for an easy university experience. It’s exhausting at times to be constantly moving among vastly different environments, away from close friends and family. Taking advantage of what NYU Shanghai has to offer, however, gives you an unparalleled experience (I say, fully aware that I have never attended any other university).

NYU Shanghai truly does teach its students more about the world. This semester, I took a Business and Finance class in Chinese. I learned how to discuss the subprime mortgage crisis in Chinese, which I had previously learned in Economics classes. I took a class on Investment Transactions between China and Africa with a professor incredibly versed in the field, alongside students from Africa and China that were able to provide further perspectives. That’s just this semester. I’m really not overstating when I say I have friends from six out of seven continents and the world seems much smaller than it used to when I grew up in Massachusetts.

NYU Shanghai pushes its students to achieve outside of the classroom and pursue any and all interests and we all get to learn from and support one another in this aspect. I ran this newspaper for four years, captained our soccer team, had various internships, etc. – and most importantly, I’m not unique in that aspect. Our campus is legitimately full of overachievers and informed cosmopolitans (irresistible shoutout to GPS) and I am grateful to have professors and students alike, that I have learned from throughout my time here. Yeah, that sounds incredibly cliche – but think about it. I would wager that it’s actually true for your NYU Shanghai experience as well.

My point is that none of the problems that face our school should dissuade a student from attending NYU Shanghai or from continuing to attend NYU Shanghai or appreciating NYU Shanghai.

I could (and honestly a first draft did) include a laundry list of suggestions on what to do to fix the looming challenges – but, I will finally acknowledge that I am graduating and will let go of that.

However, there’s one reminder I cannot resist. (Please recall when reading the following reminder that when I was cliche previously, I was actually right.)

NYU Shanghai is meant to be something different. It’s actually not for normal people (Oriana Carisa De Angelis was the first to write about this in On Century Avenue). But, that should not intimidate you in any way.

Anyone who knew me before I came to NYU Shanghai can tell you this: I should not have been able to survive in China (and this goes for a majority of the Class of 2018, sorry guys). But we all grew up, because we realized the following in one way or another.

Students at NYU Shanghai are meant to do something different. This school is an experiment in higher education that you are reaping the rewards of every single day. It is unlike anything else and our degree’s value is literally based off of what we do. Do what you want, anything you want – but remember how genuinely lucky you are to be a student here. And consider what you could do to make this university a better place.

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

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