The dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts is facing criticism from students after she included what is being called a “tone-deaf” video of herself dancing to R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” alongside an email denying students’ requests for a tuition refund.
Students at the prestigious arts school in New York City recently expressed concerns over the university’s decision to shift to remote learning as a means of stopping the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
Because much of the school’s learning takes place in labs and is hands-on, the students wanted a refund or partial refund of tuition, which costs $58,552 per year, according to NYU’s website.
Dean Allyson Green addressed those concerns in a series of three emails, the last of which included the dancing video and was sent on March 22.
In that email, which was obtained by PEOPLE, Green wrote that she did not have the authority to refund tuition, but that having to switch to remote learning was costing the school “millions,” and that NYU was still paying for the Tisch facilities and equipment despite the fact that students could no longer use them.
As for the video, she wrote that she wanted to play a song that “gets me going again, even in the darkest moments. If you don’t want to hear that now, don’t watch.”
Green explained why she leaned on the song in times of trouble.
“It’s also a great song that helps me to keep dancing. And one day in person I want to dance again with all of you,” she wrote. “Is that just a dream? Well it’s one I will keep dreaming.”
The video went viral on Twitter after it was shared by an alleged Tisch student going by the Twitter handle @michale_price. The student called the video “embarrassing.”
“I thought it was beyond absurd, really. Tone-deaf. None of my peers are really upset that they can’t make art right now. They understand the threat of COVID-19,” he tells PEOPLE. “Rather, their concerns are financial, and those concerns haven’t been addressed by the school. To me it seems NYU was not at all prepared for a situation like this. The highest echelons of the university have for years been more concerned with NYU’s real estate holdings than its students.”
Green defended the video in a statement to PEOPLE, saying she’s used the song to welcome first-year students to Tisch for the past eight years, as it “speaks to frustration and disappointment.”
“What I meant to demonstrate is my certainty that even with the unprecedented hardships of social distancing and remotely-held classes, it is still possible for the Tisch community to make art together, and that all the artists in our school will find ways to remain closely connected even as circumstances challenge us,” she wrote.
“I regret if my email left the reasons for my dancing misunderstood — although I will note that I have also received many positive acknowledgements — but its intent was surely neither frivolous or disrespectful,” she wrote.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom, a Tisch alumnus, also had harsh words for the video.
“As an alumnus, I am ashamed to say this is my Alma Mater,” she wrote on Twitter. “Stop buying up real estate and start treating your students and their parents with some respect and empathy.”
Student Eli Yurman penned an open letter about the video for NYU Local, writing, “How could you possibly think this would do anything but piss everyone off. Like, did you think about this for even a second?”
“The video is not cute. It’s uncomfortable to watch… WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!” he continued.
One Twitter user even called the video “insipid, trivializing, and in exceptionally poor taste.”
Tisch’s Film and TV students have since organized a petition urging school officials to provide a “transparent and just response” to students, and to offer a refund or partial refund for all equipment, service, lab, production and insurance fees for the semester.
“Access to equipment is a reason that many of the Film and Television students attend the University in the first place,” the petition says. “There is no online equivalent.”
The petition argues that the school offering courses as Pass/Fail is their acknowledgement that the “quality of education has changed.”
“We just ask that we pay for what we are getting, and not more,” it says.
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