Update on Global Programs in the Wake of COVID-19
From: Linda G. Mills, Vice Chancellor and Senior Vice Provost for Global Programs and University Life
Date: December 1, 2020
As we approach the conclusion of the fall semester, we wanted to take this opportunity to provide an update on COVID-19 and its effect on NYU’s global network. COVID-19 has forced us to revisit nearly every aspect of how NYU operates, and our study away programs have been no exception. Indeed, one of the very first steps our community took in response to the pandemic was to provide NYU Shanghai degree students who could not safely return to their home campus in China the opportunity to spend the Spring 2020 semester elsewhere in our global network. Nearly 330 students made use of that option, and in the last week of January, staff in New York and multiple sites around the world pulled together to find space in courses and housing, assist with travel and logistics, and support these students through the difficult experience of changing their plans. Eventually, many of these students were displaced again due to the spread of COVID-19 around the world. By March, the pandemic had created unprecedented challenges for NYU and for all of us — as individuals, as academic units, and as a community. Pivoting, making difficult trade-offs, and using the global network in necessary and creative ways have become standard fare during this unparalleled time.
As by now we are all aware, the University has experienced lost revenues and exceptional costs as a result of the pandemic (more than $100 million in academic year 2019-20, and projected to be in the range of $300 million for 2020-21). Units across the institution have taken extraordinary steps to mitigate these losses and to preserve investments that enable us to sustain our core academic and research missions and the faculty who are at the center of them.
The financial steps NYU has had to take include, for example, halting non-essential construction and capital projects, cancelling all discretionary travel, implementing a hiring pause for all but the most critical positions, and cancelling annual merit increases and promotions. Because of these moves, NYU has thus far been able to avoid the more painful cuts that many peer institutions have had to take, such as reductions to retirement contributions, wholesale reductions in academic program budgets, and widespread layoffs or furloughs (though some individual NYU units have had to make tailored cuts in order to ensure their long-term financial health).
Beginning last winter, we in Global Programs also needed to take numerous emergency actions to help our international students, protect the health and safety of all our community members, and redirect financial resources to meet the highest needs and best support the academic mission of NYU. In keeping with these guiding principles:
- We created the Go Local program to give eligible students who are unable to travel to their home campuses additional options to have an in-person NYU experience. Roughly 2,800 undergraduates and 700 graduate students chose this option in Fall 2020, staying enrolled and making progress toward their degrees. We will continue the program in the spring and provide the additional opportunity at several sites for students to live in NYU housing, even if they choose to take all their courses remotely.
- We have instituted intensive health and safety protocols at all of our global sites similar to those in place in New York, including de-densifying classroom and student housing; supporting in-person, blended, hybrid, and remote instruction; testing community members frequently; and others.
- We created new sections or re-oriented existing sections to address emerging needs identified by academic units in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai, allowing them to better support their students studying remotely all over the world. In Spring 2021, we will again offer a number of courses scheduled to be convenient for all-remote students, especially those in Asia who are managing a 13-hour time difference from New York.
- As in New York, we reduced spending wherever possible and practical, including by negotiating rent reductions, subletting unused space, returning unused student beds to landlords, and declining to renew certain leases; cutting back on building support costs (e.g., heat, electricity, guard services); dramatically reducing all but essential student programming; and suspending programs with partner institutions. We have also made some staff reductions, including through attrition and non-renewal of fixed-term contracts.
- With enrollments at most global sites sharply down from usual levels, we have had to reduce the number of courses we are currently offering by roughly two-thirds, working together with sponsoring schools and the NYU faculty members who lead our sites. These were agonizing but necessary decisions, and in the end, we were unable to provide a class this semester for many global site lecturers. Wherever possible, we have taken steps to mitigate adverse effects, and in all cases we have followed local labor laws and contract provisions, including in Paris where the Liberal Studies First Year Away (LSFYA) program has been permanently closed. All sites felt the consequences of what is now a year-long pandemic, and we are grateful to all the global site lecturers and faculty who have helped us get through this difficult time. While we could not accommodate everyone’s needs and interests, we have made every effort to appropriately balance multiple responsibilities in order to protect the overall health of NYU, including its global academic program.
- At NYU Paris, just as we did at all of our other global sites, we analyzed where we could significantly reduce expenses without dramatically affecting our overall academic and research programs. During this process, it became clear that closing the LSFYA program in Paris, one of the most expensive programs we operate at any global site, would achieve the necessary savings and that students could be accommodated at the remaining four sites that host the program under more sustainable financial models. While this decision will result in the elimination of five positions, it allowed us to preserve positions for 52 other lecturers in Paris and maintain the intellectual vitality that NYU Paris has epitomized for many decades. I would like to extend my gratitude to those whose positions have been affected by this decision for their service to the site.
- At NYU Sydney, the pandemic has exacerbated longstanding enrollment challenges, including a stark imbalance between fall and spring and a mismatch between the size of our facilities and the number of students attending. Both of these are issues that we, in partnership with the Site-Specific Advisory Committee (SSAC), have worked hard to address over the past few years. As a first step, we needed to terminate the lease on our academic center, which was larger than our program required. The termination required that we provide one year’s notice, and we will depart the building in July 2021. Between now and then, we will work with many constituents, including the faculty on the Sydney SSAC and NYU Sydney leadership, to contemplate what options there may be for a modified program in Australia.
NYU’s global identity has long been central to our undergraduate education, and opportunities such as the Global Research Initiative (GRI) form a key element of NYU’s offerings both to graduate students and to our research faculty who have scholarly interests outside of New York. While of course we can't know precisely what spring — and, following that, a post-vaccination world — will look like, we are confident that our path forward will be far smoother due to the difficult financial decisions we took early on in the pandemic. We look forward to conversations with faculty through the SSACs and other committees as we continue to navigate this extremely challenging time. As always, we thank all of our NYU faculty members, global site lecturers, and staff both in New York and across our global campuses and sites who contribute in myriad ways to the success of NYU’s global network as a marker of the University’s international excellence and standing. We are in the process of scheduling SSAC meetings for early in the spring. I have already met with the Faculty Committee on NYU’s Global Network, among other faculty concerned about these issues.
Please feel free to reach out at any time to me at email@example.com, or to the other faculty leaders in Global Programs: Eliot Borenstein, Senior Academic Convenor for the Global Network (firstname.lastname@example.org); Marianne Petit, Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Network Academic Planning (email@example.com); and Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Network Faculty Planning (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Linda G. Mills
Vice Chancellor, Global Programs and University Life; Lisa Ellen Goldberg Professor