About-Face on Fee Waivers

NYU changes policy and its website, and apologizes to would-be graduate student who went public after being told the university didn't grant waivers.

December 22, 2015

Regardless of whether Joshua Jackson ends up enrolling at New York University, the would-be applicant has already changed the university.

Jackson went public this weekend with the email they (Jackson's preferred pronoun) received from a university administrator turning down their request for a fee waiver. Dan Sandford, director of graduate admissions at Tisch School of the Arts, emailed Jackson: "Please do not take this the wrong way but if $65 is a hardship for you how will you be able to pay the tuition of $60,000? Of course we do provide scholarships but the most we usually offer is $15,000-$20,000. This still leaves a considerable gap. Maybe you should give yourself a year off looking at ways to fund your graduate education." Jackson posted the full email chain on Twitter and created a hashtag, #ShameonNYU, that others joined with their own stories.

With the response Jackson received drawing widespread criticism from advocates for low-income students, who note that many can't afford application fees, NYU reversed course on Monday. The university announced that it would not only waive application fees but would offer to do so publicly. This differs from past policy of stating on the university website that no waivers were granted but privately granting some. The university updated its website. And the university apologized to Jackson and said it hoped they would apply.

John Beckman, a spokesman for NYU, released a statement outlining the university's new approach to what happened to Jackson.

"The exchange between a graduate admissions officer at NYU's Tisch School and a potential applicant for admission was wrong and unfortunate on many levels," Beckman wrote. "First, on the policy level. The Tisch School [the NYU division where Jackson wanted to apply] wants a diverse class in its program; having a stated policy that doesn't allow the application fee to be waived for those with financial need is at odds with that important goal, with our values and with many of NYU's programs, which do allow for application fees to be waived. And we are clearing this up immediately. Allyson Green, dean of the Tisch School of the Arts, made it clear to all faculty and administrators that fees can be waived for those with financial need. We have changed the language on the website to reflect this policy. In addition, the incoming president, Andrew Hamilton, is writing to all of NYU's deans to make sure they have a policy in place to waive application fees for students with financial needs."

Beckman added: "Second, on the practical level. The fact is, every year we did waive fees for a number of students applying to this program who asked. But this was done opaquely, which serves no one well; it's simply not right to have a policy saying one thing and a practice that's at odds with it.

"Third, on the personal level. We handled our communications with Joshua Jackson badly. Part of it may have been the inevitable result of the ambiguous way we handled a policy that was wrong to begin with, but part of it was just insensitivity. Frankly, Joshua Jackson was right to call us out. We deserved it, and we owe an apology, which we have conveyed. We'd be pleased to have Joshua apply; if not, we understand -- it's our fault."

Jackson could not be reached Monday for a reaction.


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