The move to online classes has been particularly jarring for college students studying dance, music and theater who now question whether these arts can be taught remotely.
Students at the Yale School of Drama and Marymount Manhattan College are asking for refunds and those at NYU Tisch School of the Arts have been organizing protests.
“I’m really pissed off,” says Joshua Holmes, a sophomore who says he came to Tisch for its renowned acting training. He doesn’t feel video lessons will be effective.
For $30,000 a semester, he expected more than online tutorials. “I’m a drama major,” says Holmes, 20, back home in Houston after being evicted from campus housing. “We act, we perform. That’s our whole existence.”
Holmes and other students were further angered when an initial email from the school’s dean, Allyson Green, announcing the switch to remote learning said that Tisch would not offer refunds even if students felt they weren’t getting the education they were promised.
Green’s follow-up message made things worse.
That email started by saying the school couldn’t afford to give refunds. She conceded the education would not be the same, adding that the university needed to continue paying rental fees on studio spaces and ongoing construction costs for building additions as well as funding salaries for faculty and support staff.
The email also said the move to online instruction has cost the school millions. It added that while students may not currently have access to equipment and supplies, or be able to participate in productions, they had access to those things in the past.
The email included a video of Green, a choreographer, dancing to REM’s “Losing My Religion.”
Students were outraged. Twitter is filled with Tisch students voicing their displeasure. “People are out here in mountains of debt and this chick is comin’ out mocking them with her boomer Tik Toks,” complained one post. A Change.org petition asking Green and the board of trustees to offer partial refunds to students drew more than 4,000 signatures.
“We are all disheartened by the way our administrators continually state that we are getting the same education as before,” says Noah Ozuna, 21, who started the petition. “But without access to facilities, equipment and services, it’s undeniably not.”
Ozuna says he started the petition because he felt he and his fellow students were being ignored. He says he has sent over two dozen emails to the dean, many of which got no response and the ones that did had no satisfactory answers.
“We all agree that we deserve some of our tuition back,” he says. “And we think the school needs to communicate with students and answer our questions.”
Green defended her video in a statement to the New York Post:
“I shared the song with which I have welcomed first-year students to the Tisch School of the Arts for the past eight years. It is a piece that…speaks to frustration and disappointment, and that helped see me through the loss of 30 friends to AIDS—another difficult period for artists…I regret it if my email left the reasons for my dancing misunderstood… its intent was surely neither frivolous or disrespectful.”
The school said that it has moved to virtual and multimedia formats to meet student’s needs. “Faculty and staff have been working around the clock to deliver a curricula that adapts existing student work to remote tools while also finding extraordinarily creative ways of delivering a quality arts education in challenging circumstances,” it said in a statement provided by Tisch press officer Sarah Binney.
When asked about tuition refunds, the university pointed to schools such as Harvard, Amherst, and Tufts University that have also refused to offer refunds.
The responses did not satisfy Holmes and Ozuna. They say they hope that continuing to talk about their experiences will lead to a deeper dialogue with the university.
“I want to grow and be an outstanding actor,” says Holmes. “People come to the school and pay thousands of dollars, move halfway across the country, and it’s being limited because of a virus and I completely understand. But do not make me pay for that and say it’s equal learning.”