By Olivia Briggs
The Tisch Asia community was hit late Thursday evening by a mass e-mail from Dean Mary Campbell informing students, alumni, and faculty that the graduate institution would, in fact, be closing its doors for good some time after the 2013-2014 academic year. Students immediately organized an 11am all-campus meeting to prepare for individual department meetings with Dean Campbell, Bob Cameron, and associates beginning at 1pm and stretching into the early evening of Friday November 9th.
This is not the first time that the little NYU campus has been rocked by bad news. Nearly one year ago, on November 24th, 2011, the campus received notification that Tisch Asia’s founder and president, Pari Shirazi, was being removed from her post. With no prior warning, and for many, insufficient disclosure on the part of the upper NYU administration, the campus was thrown into turmoil. Skepticism of the powers that be only deepened after an initial meeting with Dean Campbell revealed that Shirazi had been unceremoniously fired due to an inability to make Tisch Asia a self-sufficient financial entity by 2011, as per the original agreement with NYU upon the school’s creation in 2007. It was also disclosed that, under closer examination, that the business plan created by Shirazi never would have succeeded, and was, therefore, doomed to fail.
This news raised a host of questions from students and faculty alike. Why hadn’t such a prestigious institution paid closer attention to the expansion of its assets, especially those that affect the lives of their employers and investors, the students? There were also rumors that Shirazi’s actual plan had involved a partnership with Singapore’s National University to create a local Tisch undergraduate institution, which would have supported it’s graduate, big sister school. Why this had not happened and what forces may have been standing in Shirazi’s way are still a mystery, but there has been small speculation that adversity may well have come from New York University President, John Sexton.
With the NYU brand recently expanding its satellite locations all over the world, including Abu Dhabi, Tel Aviv, numerous European countries, and Shanghai, Tisch Asia remained the only school that was not a part of Sexton’s so-called “global university”, and coincidentally, the only overseas NYU institution not created by the president himself. Despite the fact that Tisch Asia was the first of these NYU degree granting programs outside of the United States, it wasn’t until Shirazi’s removal that the Singapore school was inducted. Even then, however, it was never discussed with or presented to students exactly what this meant or how they would benefit from being a part of Sexton’s growing international empire, nor did Tisch Asia appear in publications about the Global Network University. What the student body was informed of, however, was that our tuition was no longer going directly to Tisch School of the Arts, but to New York University as a whole. This, needless to say, did not sit well with many students, and lead to a larger, looming question in the minds and mouths of the community: Why on earth is NYU attempting to expand so astronomically when it is unable to support the assets it currently has?
Tempers flared as the various seeds of conspiracies began to grow, and just as the forest had thickened into a veritable jungle of uneasiness and frustration, in stepped John Sexton himself. The meeting that resulted, between NYU’s president and the Tisch Asia community, can best be described as a regrettable affair. Not only did Sexton attempt to appease the angry crowd with loosely related familial anecdotes for nearly a half an hour, but met nearly every demand for information on Shirazi’s removal and the future of our institution with bureaucratic rhetoric. It is safe to say that the discussion quickly turned ugly. Outbursts on both sides only deepened concerns about the true intentions of the upper administration and, for many, sent fissures through the once seemingly impenetrable reputation of the NYU Tisch brand. Who were we now but a collection of artists, many of us far from home, who had trusted our education and livelihood in a name, and were now at the mercy of a frustrated administration with unclear motives and no clear game plan?
Tisch Asia finally got their answer Thursday night, and some even earlier through interrogatory phone calls from Singapore’s Straits Times. Apparently, the conclusion of the past week’s meeting(s) between NYU administration and Singapore government personnel had been leaked to the local press before NYU had a chance to issue an official release. This, of course, only added to the list of grievances on the part of the Tisch Asia community.
Despite the error in judgement on whoever’s part it may have been, the news of the school’s closure itself, as well as the sheer inconvenience of the information coming at a time when nearly one third of the student body is in production, and therefore unable to participate in all-school meetings and possibly out of communication altogether, the school’s students and faculty handled the information extraordinarily well. It seems the year of skepticism and controversy has given our family a new air of confidence and calm in the face of opposition, and the five hours of near constant meetings was conducted quite constructively. Concrete answers to the many questions about what happens now, however, were few and far between.
Though the University has guaranteed students that they will honor their degrees, should they choose to continue to pursue them, they were unable to outline a plan as to what will be done with the over forty first-year film students, the largest film class ever admitted, in the event that the school is unable to stay open past the spring of 2014. Another concern was how they plan to continue to deliver the quality of the Tisch Asia experience. This was also met with hesitancy as to a precise plan of action, but the conclusion was that they would try. While NYU will honor the contractual agreements they have made to their faculty, when asked what incentives they would be providing them to continue at their posts to the school’s inevitable termination, no answer was given. What they did state, however, is that no further attempt will be made to save the school or to repeal the supposed Singapore Government’s decision to not continue to house NYU’s first overseas degree-granting institution.
Despite the sealing of its fate, there just may be a silver lining peaking out from behind the storm clouds that have been hovering over this campus for close to a year now. An incredible solidarity has been growing and continues to bloom as mass e-mails fly, facebook updates soar, and students and faculty gather, all in proud recognition of one another’s academic achievements, and to formulate a strategy to nurture the community as a whole and preserve the legacy of a school that, while may have been a financial failure, was a tremendous artistic success.
We may have been the little film school that couldn’t, but through continued support of one another, the likes of which we have already seen, Tisch Asia may very well be the community that can, and no unchecked business plan, questionable authoritative motives, or local government veto can take that away from us. We are strong, we are brave, we are a creative force to be reckoned with. Campus or no campus, we are, and will continue to be, Tisch Asia.To make any potential factual corrections, recent updates, or feedback to this article, please submit your comment below
By Britton T. Burdick on 11/13/2012
I felt both saddened an inspired after reading this article. I hope everyone at Tisch Asia is able to come out of this without any impairment to their education.
Britton T. Burdick
NYU-SCPS Undergraduate Council
Olivia... is there any way we can send this to NYU Local? I don't know NYU Local's parameters, but I don't see why we couldn't include a piece written from our perspective.
Beautifully written and damned accurate! Only one who was here could tell it like it is. Thank you.