Be Confident in Claiming ‘I’m An NYU Student’

(Cover photo source: NYU Shanghai)

In the intervening years, questions have been raised irregularly about the identity of students graduating from the Shanghai campus in terms of the authenticity of their NYU education in China. And they occasionally get pushback when applying for jobs in China. 

As he has probably done many times in the past, Vice-Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman confirmed in a recent interview that NYU Shanghai students are legally eligible to identify themselves as New York University students.

“The way we talk about NYU Shanghai is that it is a university with a unique double identity,” said Lehman. “We are simultaneously the third degree-granting campus of New York University.

“They are NYU students. They are NYU Alumni after they graduate,” said Chancellor Lehman. 

Today, New York University has three degree-granting campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai. They all have the same privileges to issue NYU degrees upon students’ successful completion of their academic careers.

Since the illuminated NYU Shanghai logo lit up Century Avenue, dissenting voices about its identity have burbled, maybe flourished, categorizing NYU Shanghai as a “Wild Chicken University (野鸡大学)” in Chinese, also known as “Diploma Mill” in English. 

Most have emerged from questions over the discrepancy between the official Chinese name of NYU Shanghai – Shanghai New York University (上海纽约大学) – and the status of NYU Shanghai within New York University.

“We have a name in Chinese, this Shanghai New York University (上海纽约大学), in the official organizing documents on the China side,” said Vice-Chancellor Lehman. “We have two legal names in English – one is Shanghai New York University, and the other is NYU Shanghai. They’re both legal names for the same institution.”

While NYU Shanghai is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in the United States as an “additional location” that does not possess an independent faculty or administration unit from the New York University, laws and regulations on foreign educational institutions in China cause semblances of recognition hindrance of NYU Shanghai’s identity.

According to the ‘Implementation Measures for the Regulation of the People’s Republic of China on Chinese-foreign Cooperative Education’ that the State Council of the People’s Republic of China issued in 2004, “no foreign educational institution, other organization or individual may establish unilaterally schools or other educational institutions providing education mainly to Chinese citizens within the territory of China.”

The law prevents New York University from establishing a campus in China in which it is the only “shareholder” involved. Instead, a local partner is mandatory for its legal presence in China. 

“We are created through the joint efforts of NYU, East China Normal University, the City of Shanghai, and the District of Pudong,” said Vice-Chancellor Lehman. 

“We are a degree-granting campus of NYU; we are also the first Sino-American joint university. You’ve got to hold both of those things in your head at the same time,” Chancellor Lehman added.

East China Normal University is a higher education institution in Shanghai with which New York University collaborated to establish the Shanghai campus. Its role in the joint venture of NYU Shanghai is possibly adding more complexity to the identity.

“When I was registering for the College English Test (CET), my home institution appeared to be East China Normal University,” said Zhang Ling’er, a graduating senior at NYU Shanghai. “I was neither affiliated to NYU Shanghai nor NYU.” 

Sun Er’Fu, a sophomore at NYU Shanghai, said: “I am a bit confused by my student identity. Upon graduation, are we going to receive a degree from ECNU? One previous graduate had an ECNU bachelor’s degree listed on their resume.”

But Vice-Chancellor Lehman is adamant. “We were incorporated, under Chinese law, as a separate legal person,” said Vice-Chancellor Lehman. “We are not a unit within the East China Normal University. 

“Students are handed two different diplomas. One is from the trustees of New York University, and one is from Shanghai New York University,” he added.

Sun Sabrina (real name withheld to ensure future job potential) is a graduating senior at NYU Shanghai who believes it is a major campus of New York University under one unified system. 

Sun recalled her experience of applying for an internship in Shanghai, where she had to address her student identity extensively, and awkwardly, during an interview.

“The interviewer questioned my NYU student identity because they found that I was from NYU Shanghai instead of NYU, which they believed was in New York,” said Sun. “They asked me, ‘are you from NYU or NYU Shanghai?'” 

“I don’t know how to reply to that,” she added.

Zhang Ling’er said it would be a “looking for trouble” inconvenience to identify herself as an NYU student when applying for jobs at local entities with limited international exposure.

“They think you are intentionally ‘raising your status’,” said Zhang. 

Chancellor Lehman recognized the dilemma and claimed that he had not heard about such situations for a long time, unlike in the first year or two when employers kept questioning the NYU Shanghai students’ educational background. 

“They have admitted five years of graduates already from NYU Shanghai,” said Chancellor Lehman. “That surprises me.”

“We’re no longer infants,” he added.

While Zhang puts “New York University Shanghai” as the institution that issues her bachelor’s degree on her resume, Sun additionally puts “New York University” as her second degree-awarding institution in a parallel position. 

“When I was filling in the application forms for graduate school, if I saw both “NYU” and “NYU Shanghai,” I would select “NYU Shanghai,” said Zhang. “I was afraid of being recognized as someone being dishonest by identifying myself as an NYU student.” 

Sun said: “I think the external communication of NYU Shanghai makes people outside of NYU think that NYU Shanghai is an independent university instead of being an NYU campus.” 

“We are part of New York University,” Vice-Chancellor Lehman reiterated. “We think of ourselves as part of New York University. We say it all the time. We are not independent in any meaningful sense.” 

The identity of NYU Shanghai allows students to choose Shanghai as their home base at New York University, where students decide to pursue an unparalleled track of education that is neither traditional American nor traditional Chinese.

“It is our personal decision to attend NYU in Shanghai,” said Zhang. “You enjoy the extra benefits that this double-identity brings to you, same for the auxiliary obstructions you have to tolerate. It is the same as you choose to be in Shanghai, so now you have to go through quarantines.”

“We are always open to suggestions. It’s absolutely a priority for us to be as helpful to our students and our graduates,” said Chancellor Lehman. 

Zhang is, however, willing to accept the reality that things have been different for Shanghai-based Chinese students since starting their NYU journey, with an admission process that is drastically different from what international students go through.

“I only feel being part of NYU when I participate in All-NYU events, such as the Reality Show, University Honors Scholars, and course registration, where you compete with all NYU students across the globe,” said Zhang. 

“As long as the HR officers understand who we are, we do not care what we write on our resumes to identify ourselves,” she added.

Author: Kevin Zhao

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