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NYU Students Say School Official Threatened Their Financial Aid Over Protests

When a group of New York University students began occupying the staircase of a campus building last week, they initially planned to stay indefinitely, or at least until their demand for a meeting with the school’s board of trustees was granted. Instead, the students departed within forty hours, after the university phoned their parents, warning of a possible suspension that could lead to a loss of housing and financial aid.

The phone calls — which a memo from the Student Government Assembly described as an act of “administrative recklessness” — startled both students and parents, and have since ignited a debate about how universities should treat campus protesters.

“I don’t believe it is appropriate for NYU to use emergency contacts in this way,” Carlos Matos, a Puerto Rican student who arrived at NYU in November through the Hurricane Maria Assistance Program, tells the Voice. Matos says his father was visiting a relative in the hospital when he was informed by Christopher Stipeck, assistant director of residential life at NYU, that his son’s housing would be in jeopardy if he continued protesting. “After everything that’s happened in Puerto Rico, my parents have enough on their plate already. The one thing they could trust was that I was at NYU, but now their sense of security is destabilized.”

Christiane Riederer, whose daughter Josephine is an NYU sophomore and a member of the divestment movement, says Stipeck phoned her as well, and warned that her daughter would be in danger of losing financial aid, scholarships, and her housing if she continued occupying. “It seemed excessive, when they could have just listened to the kids instead,” says Riederer.

But according to NYU spokesperson John Beckman, the school’s reaction was “in line with our long-standing practice” for when students face a possible suspension. Beckman notes that the protesters — most of them members of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), which advocates against unjust labor practices at the university, and NYU Divest, which has long called for the school to divest from fossil fuel — had attempted a round-the-clock occupation of the Kimmel Center for University Life, which closes at 11 p.m., to protest the school’s refusal to grant them a public meeting with the board of trustees.

Students who disrupt university operations to protest school governance have faced similar discipline in the past. In 2009, eighteen students were suspended by NYU for barricading themselves in a dining hall, in an attempt to force the university to share information on its operating budget, expenditures, and endowment. In that case, “most, if not all” of the suspended students were able to keep their financial aid and housing, Beckman said.

But the school’s policy does typically prohibit suspended students from living in university housing, and federal guidelines attached to financial aid could prevent a suspended student from accessing parts of their benefits package, including the Federal Work-Study program, according to Beckman. (He did not respond to a follow-up question about whether a student had ever lost their housing or financial aid over a suspension related to protesting.)

In last week’s phone calls to parents, Beckman added, the university did not “threaten students about their housing or other financial aid. But it is simply the case that certain possible disciplinary outcomes — such as suspension — would have an impact on those matters.”

Yet several students and parents who spoke with the Voice said that the calls they received from the university last week made clear that continuing the occupation could imperil their financial aid and housing. In the view of those students, the tactic had the effect of targeting those who are financially dependent on the university, and could discourage them from speaking out in the future.

“It’s particularly disturbing that they would threaten those who rely on financial aid and housing, which would disproportionately affect low-income students,” says Olivia Rich, a first-year law student at NYU and member of the divestment movement. “It’s just a really extreme reaction considering we’re asking for something very small, which is just a few hours of time with the people who make decisions at the university.”

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Student access to the board of trustees has become something of a flash point at NYU in recent years. Since 2016, activist groups including SLAM, NYU Divest, the Incarceration to Education Coalition, and the NYU College Democrats have called for student representation on the board. So far, NYU president Andrew Hamilton has rejected the idea, claiming it would present a conflict of interest.

But that explanation is specious, students say, considering that the current board — which determines financial aid policies, among other issues, and has previously rejected a student government vote to divest the university from fossil fuels — already appears to be riddled with potential conflicts.

The student activists note that the current board chair, William Berkley, made some of his fortune as the director of First Marblehead Corporation, a private student loan provider that has drawn legal scrutiny for its lending practices. Berkley is also the former owner of an oil and gas company, now owned by Anadarko — an energy company that NYU had direct holdings in until last year. Other board members include BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink, billionaire hedge fund manager and Trump advisor John Paulson, and Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, who serves on the United Arab Emirates’ Supreme Petroleum Council.

“We’ve found that accessing the decision-making body at the university is almost impossible — we don’t know where this board meets, or when, and the individuals are extremely difficult to contact,” says Sarah Singh, a senior at NYU and member of NYU Divest. “I think a lot of the shadiness here comes from the fact that [the board of trustees] might not be able to answer questions that student leaders have for them.”

Until such a meeting is arranged, leaders of both groups say they will continue to push for increased accountability and transparency from the board. For other students, however, the university’s latest reaction revealed that the cost of protesting at NYU may be too high to bear.

“By calling my parents and creating that sense of panic in them, they’re placing me in a situation where now my parents have no more peace of mind,” says Matos. “I’m pushed to stand down or silence myself because I care for them, rather than have a voice in the system.”

 

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A New NYU Course Zeroes In on Bitcoin

The word most often associated with Bitcoin — the controversial digital currency that has confounded central banks and regulators around the world since launching in 2009 — is volatility. Its value is erratic (roughly seven times more volatile than the stock market), its governance decentralized, its legal status murky, and the true identity of its inventor shrouded in mystery.

So this fall, to help students navigate the notoriously dicey legal and economic landscape of software-based payment systems, NYU debuted a course in “The Law and Business of Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies,” making it one of only a handful of U.S. universities to do so.

“This is a very high-risk venture, and I wake up every day checking the price and half expecting it to fall off the cliff,” says David Yermack, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business who, along with NYU law professor Geoffrey Miller, teaches the course. The pair both signed up for an extra teaching load, says Yermack, so that if Bitcoin abruptly crashed, they could scrap the course on short notice. “Even though it took six months to plan and authorize the course, the whole topic area is so
volatile and dicey, who knows?” he continues. “Will we offer this next year? It’s anybody’s guess.”

Students, too, have been wondering how practical a course on Bitcoin is when the currency seems to be constantly teetering on the edge of calamity. But even if Bitcoin does die
tomorrow, the technology and theory behind digital currencies has forever changed the way the world views age-old concepts like money
and property ownership.

“[Bitcoin] reimagines money, which is something that everybody is interested in at some level,” says Yermack. “And it’s the first currency ever that really wasn’t connected to a government or some kind of sovereign authority. It’s made people think about possibilities for commerce and business and daily life that probably never occurred to them before.”

Bitcoin, he adds, “has a lot of issues that make it unsuitable for a long-term role as a world currency,” such as a lack of centralized leadership and accountability. “But I think aspects of the technology behind Bitcoin are probably going
to be discussed for a long time to come.”

According to Yermack, what Bitcoin has
essentially done is replace the Federal Reserve with a computer code. The system allows users to store currency in “digital wallets” and
complete transactions anonymously without the interference of banks, middlemen, or, for the most part, regulations.

While the majority of the class consists of law students interested in the real-world legal ramifications of such a system, others have simply been captured by the strangeness of it all.
(Yermack says several philosophy majors have enrolled.) Bitcoin’s alleged creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, is said to be an alias for either a person
or group of people whose true identity is still
unknown. The currency has been used for a number of nefarious activities, ranging from money laundering to drug trafficking. It’s as
if the storyline has been lifted straight from an ’80s cyberpunk novel.

“I do think the narrative behind it is
intriguing,” says Yermack. “There are so many colorful characters connected with Bitcoin. Everyone from the Winklevoss twins to these entrepreneurs who are sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into things that look pretty dubious.”

Despite all the legal quandaries and
media buzz the currency has produced in recent years, the lifespan of Bitcoin, as well as Yermack’s class, remains to be seen.

“Who knows where this will be” in the future, Yermack admits. But in the meantime, he says, “there’s no shortage of material to fill a university course with.”

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BLIND DATE

It didn’t really work out for Shia LaBeouf, but maybe it will work out for you. Participants in this social experiment/speed dating event wear paper bags over their heads as they flirt with a personality-first approach to dating. Dr. Tomas Chamorro Premuzic, a professor of psychology at NYU, will introduce the event and the anonymous but still pretty brave singles. Don’t worry, admission comes with not one but four free drinks.

Wed., Nov. 19, 7 p.m., 2014

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A FLAWLESS EVENING

Long before Stonewall, drag queens were fighting the good fight to live, look, and perform as they wanted in New York City, back when cross-dressing was still illegal. Flawless Sabrina was among the scene’s founders, and with decades of activism and arrests under her garter belt, she’s earned herself the title “den mother of NYC drag.” Tonight she’ll tell her story to performance artist Karen Finley as part of NYU’s Cross-Tisch lecture series.

Fri., Nov. 14, 5 p.m., 2014

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Urban Fishing

A panel of speakers — including an urban planner, an assistant professor at NYU, and the president of the NY Harbor Foundation — will address the current issues facing New York’s fishing industry. A few topics the group will touch upon include promoting sustainable fishing in New York and what steps are being taken to create sustainable waterfronts in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

Wed., Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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JAM BANDS

It’s hard to believe that famed record label Def Jam Recordings was founded just 30 years ago in producer Rick Rubin’s NYU dorm room. The label simultaneously feels as if it has existed forever and is completely brand-new. That’s a testament to the type of talent it has continued to attract since the mid ’80s, including Public Enemy and LL Cool J. Its current roster is loaded with the most important names in hip-hop, like Kanye West, Ludacris, Big Sean, and 2 Chainz. To celebrate, artists from across Rubin and Russell Simmons’s label’s history will come together for a historic night. It’s not every day you get to see Ashanti and Ja Rule reunited on the same stage as Jhené Aiko, DMX, and Foxy Brown.

Thu., Oct. 16, 8 p.m., 2014

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Intro to Diddy: Are Courses that Focus on Pop Culture Enriching for Students or Colleges?

On one of the final days of the semester at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, Tisch School instructor Jayson Jackson is lecturing his students on the finer points of controversy.

“When you’re holding a stolen gun, we call that a burner,” he explains, a sprawling flowchart of assaults, murders, and arrests scribbled on a whiteboard behind his head. “If you’re defending yourself, then it is what it is, but if you’re planning to do harm and get away with it, you use a gun that’s stolen or a gun with the serial numbers etched out so you don’t get caught.”

The course is “Topics: Sean Combs and Urban Culture,” and Jackson is referencing the infamous night in 1999 when his subject — known at the time as Puff Daddy, in later years P. Diddy — found himself at the center of a near-deadly shoot-out at Club New York, ultimately leading to an acquittal on weapons charges. Later during the same class, Andre Harrell, the former Motown Records CEO often credited with discovering Combs Skypes from California to help recount the night in 1997 when Puffy’s Bad Boy Records labelmate Biggie Smalls was murdered.

Billed as a crash course in ’90s hip-hop and urban entrepreneurship, Jackson’s seminar may feel a tad out of place at a prestigious institution of higher learning, but it’s only one of a growing number of college courses in the tri-state area centered on celebrities and pop culture. This summer at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs marked the inaugural semester of “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, and Media,” which, according to the school’s course description, follows the pop princess from “Disney tween to twerking machine” and deals with issues of gender stratification and cultural appropriation. Rutgers University offers a women’s studies class called “Politicizing Beyoncé,” which explores race, gender, and sexual politics “through the music and career” of the self-described feminist singer. College students can now learn about everyone from Bob Marley (NYU) and Frank Zappa (Indiana University) to Jay-Z and Kanye West (University of Missouri), all the while working toward a degree from an accredited four-year university.

While bold titles and name recognition certainly help fill seats (two separate sections of the Beyoncé class filled up on the first day of registration), they’ve also spawned claims that studying celebrity is a waste of university resources, as well as students’ time and tuition. Andrew Hacker, professor emeritus at Queens College and author of Higher Education? How Colleges are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids, puts it bluntly: “If you’re paying full sticker price and taking four classes a semester, you’re spending about $6,000 on one of these courses when you could just be reading Spin or some other magazine.”

Still, many universities believe pop culture and academia can mesh in meaningful, thought-provoking ways. One method is to focus on the business aspects of celebrity, immersing students in the world of a particular artist or media mogul and bringing in members of the subject’s inner circle to impart insider knowledge.

For Jackson, who ran the marketing department at Bad Boy in the late ’90s before becoming Lauryn Hill’s manager, the reason to devote an entire course to Puff Daddy was obvious. “Sean Combs is the only guy worth $700 million that I can get on the phone,” he explains nonchalantly. “I’ve worked with Puff; I’ve known him since I was 16.”

Many of Jackson’s students hope to launch careers in talent scouting and artist manage-ment, with some already interning at major labels like Columbia Records, and the course aims to outline how one might succeed in such a competitive industry. Final projects consist of “elevator pitches,” in which students have five minutes to make a viable business proposal to a would-be team of senior Bad Boy executives. When guests like Harrell visit the class (other cameos have included Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, former captain of Bad Boy’s legendary “Hitmen” production team; and James Cruz, current president of Bad Boy Management), students are urged to treat the experience like a business meeting and make lasting impressions. The goal is not only to tell the narrative of Sean Combs’s rise to fame but also to simulate real-world experience in a notoriously cutthroat and lucrative business, something NYU has preached for years in its experiential-education programs.

“Roy Disney was no fucking Papa Bear. Steve Jobs was no fucking nurturing kind of employer. It’s really sink or swim,” Jackson says. “For Sean Combs, I don’t think anyone has really considered his achievements in business, and that was one of the main reasons why I wanted to do the class.”

The alternative approach is to use a pop star’s career as a lens through which students can view larger sociopolitical issues such as race and gender inequality. Looked at that way, the scathing response to Miley Cyrus’s performance at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards — including criticisms of her body to her haircut, her outstretched tongue, and her apparent appropriation of black culture — offers plenty of material for an intensive, five-week sociology course.

“I’m not necessarily a sociologist of Miley, and I’m not necessarily a sociologist of celebrity,” says Carolyn Chernoff, the professor who teaches Skidmore’s Cyrus course. “I do urban and cultural sociology, so I look at the role of culture in either reproducing or interrupting social problems. It’s less about using a celebrity as a hook or a trick and more about looking at how power and inequality operate through entertainment, through the stuff that we’re surrounded by every day.

“Miley is a lens,” she adds, “a useful lens because she’s so polarizing.”

That argument is a hard sell for many academics — including some involved with other celeb-based courses. Clive Davis Institute chair Jeff Rabhan was the first to approve the Sean Combs class before sending the proposal on to a university curriculum committee. Two years ago, he taught a similar course on Jay-Z, which incorporated guest lectures from Dream Hampton, co-author of Jay-Z’s memoir, Decoded, and former record executive Steve Stoute.

“Respectfully, there is a huge difference between Jayson Jackson teaching a course on Puff in New York and having access to all the people, all the information and real-life experience of that, versus somebody teaching a Puff course at any other university, really, in the world,” Rabhan says. “For Skidmore [to offer a course on Miley Cyrus] — and I don’t know the context of the class — but I just don’t see what that’s providing. Unless she’s coming and talking, or unless you have access to the real inner circle so you know what’s going on, what you’re doing is essentially generating publicity, press, and interest based upon something that is not really serving the needs of the students.”

Yet some students say they appreciate courses that help them view modern media representations with a critical eye. Samantha Reisman, a sophomore at Skidmore, describes “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus” as one of the best courses she has taken. Despite some early skepticism from her peers and her parents, she says, she felt intellectually stimulated by the assigned readings, in-class discussions, and guest lectures from bloggers at Jezebel and BuzzFeed, who provided context concerning the media’s obsession with the pop star.

“We would be looked down upon and kind of have to justify the reason we took the class when we were telling people about it, because they assumed right away that it was a history class on Miley Cyrus,” she explains. “We weren’t looking at Miley as a person, because we don’t know who Miley as a person is. We were looking at Miley as a brand and how she relates to the greater social world and the media.”

Still, name recognition does play an important role in choosing topics for these courses, especially as schools seek ways to hold the attention of increasingly distracted, millennial students.

“At least for me, in my teaching of other topics, you see just how hard it is to get the kids interested,” admits Kevin Allred, a 33-year-old Ph.D. student at Rutgers, who teaches the “Politicizing Beyoncé” course, which incorporates a long list of weighty texts from feminist theorists, authors, and women’s-rights activists like Sojourner Truth, bell hooks, and Angela Davis. “They’re on their phones and Twitter and doing a thousand things at the same time,” Allred says. “Certainly, using ‘Beyoncé’ in the title, and as the subject matter, is a way to get students interested in something they otherwise maybe wouldn’t think about signing up for. There’s a gimmick title, but it is a real class.”

The rise of celebrity courses is an indicator of a shifting landscape at American universities, where schools are in fierce competition to offer the most enticing classes in hopes of attracting the best, the brightest, and the largest volume of applicants each year. Though NYU received a record 48,606 applications in 2013, the mentality may very well be to give the students what they want now or risk losing momentum in the future.

Professors, too, are changing, as younger, media-savvy instructors enter faculty and adjunct positions at major institutions, pushing for universities to accept pop culture as not only a kitschy elective but also a legitimate subject of academic discourse. If a class on a rap mogul or a pop singer helps prepare students for careers in business (or, at the very least, gets them looking at media with a critical eye), maybe these courses are indeed serving a real intellectual purpose.

For many students, though, the impetus for taking a course on their favorite celeb remains relatively simple.

“I think it was evenly split between people who were very interested in the topic and wanted to take the class for their life and their career, and then people who really just wanted to take a cool course,” says Alfredo Tirado, who enrolled in the Sean Combs course. “I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to take a course on Diddy?”

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27 Ways to Better Yourself This Summer in NYC

Art
Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park, called it “a democratic development of the highest significance.” But it has its aesthetic points, too, and you can learn how best to exploit them at “Beginners Learn to Draw: Drawing Class in Central Park,” hosted by Art Studio NY. The two-hour class promises to cover “shading, composition, and personal expression.” If it rains, expect soggier subject matter. theartstudiony.com

Like the TARDIS, the Met seems bigger on the inside. Luckily, NYU‘s School of Continuing Education and Professional Studies promises to push you beyond the usual Egyptian temples and impressionist landscapes. With “Hidden Treasures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” you’ll spend six Friday evenings discovering the likes of French period rooms, the Cypriot Corridor, and Southeast Asian sculptures. scps.nyu.edu

Computers
Many of us use our computers for little more than word processing, video streaming, Google searching, and stalking the occasional ex on Facebook. For those who need their Macs and PCs to perform more sophisticated tasks, the American Graphics Institute in midtown can help. Specializing in design, publishing, and marketing software, they offer classes in Dreamweaver, Photoshop, After Effects, InDesign, and Adobe Flash, Acrobat, and Illustrator. agitraining.com

Have you tried turning it off and on again? How about hitting control-alt-delete? Maybe giving the keyboard a good whack? It might work, but if you’re looking for a more sophisticated approach to computer diagnostics and overhaul, consider the “PC Repair Technician Program” at the Bronx Community College. And once your machine is up and running, they also offer courses designed to equip you for IT jobs, such as Linux+. bcc.cuny.edu

Crafts
If you’ve ever said to yourself, Hey, a glass paperweight will really pull this room together, you can make your own after Brooklyn Glass‘s “One-Day Paperweight” course. The 4,000-square-foot Gowanus studio, which boasts two giant furnaces, also offers classes in flame-working, glassblowing, neon-bending, and one-day workshops in marble- and bead-making. brooklynglass.com

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. So isn’t it time you taught yourself to associate with a better class of chum? During the Jewelry Arts Institute‘s summer semester, you can learn to craft your own trinkets and baubles. In this eight-session class in midtown, you’ll be tutored in jewelry design as well as such techniques as “soldering, stone-setting, and fusing.” Precious gems not included. jewelryartsinstitute.com

Fashion
How should you spend your weekend nights? You could sip cocktails at some secret speakeasy, swap small plates at a new eatery, brave the throb and sweat and crowds at a nightclub. Or you could sew. On Friday nights, Chelsea’s City Quilter invites you to booze it up while you baste and tack at “Sip ‘n’ Sew.” And if you want to get tipsy on the foot treadle again, there’s “Saturday Night Sewing,” too. cityquilter.com

The Oscars red carpet is a fashion-lover’s dream — the sweeping gowns, the statement tuxes, the occasional swan outfit. But the Fashion Institute of Technology insists that the more interesting clothes are preserved on celluloid. In “Fashion in Film and Media” you can learn about the cinematic outfits that have had the most influence on popular culture, with a focus on “wardrobe design, selection, and depiction.” fitnyc.edu

Film/Video/Television
Billy Wilder believed that a movie director must be “a policeman, a midwife, a psychoanalyst, a sycophant, and a bastard.” If you’d like to begin your multiple careers, start with “Camera Fundamentals,” a two-day workshop at DCTV. You’ll learn such video basics as “focus, exposure, white balance, and composition.” Plus, the workshop includes a one-year DCTV membership, offering access to equipment rentals and post-production facilities. dctvny.org

“If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed,” said Stanley Kubrick. Which is all well and good unless you’ve never moved beyond the title page of your teleplay. Happily, Columbia University offers a six-week “Television Writing Intensive.” You’ll choose between a half-hour-sitcom track and an hour-drama track focused on police and medical procedurals, with coursework supplemented with presentations by industry professionals. ce.columbia.edu

Food and Drink
It’s a culinary truism that you probably don’t want to know what goes into your sausage. But if you’re curious and strong-stomached, Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market hosts “Sausage Making 101” on April 7. After a brief lecture, students mix, season, stuff, and link their very own links. It’s the wurst! If that isn’t sufficiently carnivorous, the next week Dickson offers the make-your-own-jerky course “Jerkin’ Around with Ted.” dicksonfarmstand.com

To make a cake, you’ll need to sift flour, soften butter, and separate eggs. Or not. In consideration of dietary allergies and antipathies, the Natural Gourmet Institute in the Flatiron District offers “Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free Cakes.” Lest you think that will also make them free of pleasure, joy, and taste, the menu for April includes luscious lemon cake, orange cardamom cake, and maple apple walnut cake, as well as several varieties of boozy frosting. naturalgourmetinstitute.com

In wine there is truth. And also many grapes. If you’d like to learn more about what’s in your glass, attend spring classes at the Upper East Side’s Vino-Versity. Learn the essentials with “Wine Basics,” then graduate to “Chips, Dips, and Sips” or “Pairing Wine and Cheeses: Rind, Brined, and Wined!” Once you’re an alcohol aficionado, you can try “Destination Wine Tasting,” which features 20 to 24 wines from a particular region with geographically appropriate snacks. vinoversity.com

For Children and Teens
Sugar, spice, everything nice, and an enthusiasm for guitar shredding — is that what your little girl is made of? Then perhaps you’d like to enroll her in the Willa Mae Rock Camp for Girls, a six-day program in the financial district. On the first day of class, your badass lass is assigned to a band. She’ll spend the week writing music and lyrics, while also learning about sound engineering and self-defense. And at week’s end, she’ll play her album-ready song in a showcase concert. willamaerockcamp.org

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Manhattan is an island surrounded by rivers and bays. You might not want to swim in our bodies of water, but you should still probably know how. You can make your tots amphibious at Physique Swimming on the Upper East Side. Beginner classes will teach them how to submerge, float, and kick, while more advanced courses offer training in particular strokes. There’s a summer camp, too. physiqueswimming.com

Health/Body/Wellness
There are teas for sleeping, teas for waking, teas for clarity, teas for calming, teas for fertility, teas for menopause. Rather than fork over all that money to Celestial Seasonings and Traditional Medicinals, why not make your own? On April 26, the New York Botanical Garden offers “Wellness — A Natural Approach: Creating Herbal Teas.” Here you’ll learn how to make “roots, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds into effective, pleasing blends.” nybg.org

Do you feel yourself preyed upon by malevolent spirits? And do you love to rock it to the beat? If so, the Maha Rose Center for Healing at Greenpoint has an unusual solution: Dance it out. Every Friday, “party girl turned yogi” Debbie D. leads Dancorcism, a workout designed to cleanse your aura. The center also offers instruction in reiki, breathwork, tarot, past-life regression, and eating for your chakras. maharose.com

Languages
There’s nothing like a Dane. Unless it’s a Swede. Or possibly a Norwegian. New Yorkers are crazy for Scandinavia — the design, the crime shows, the woolen sweaters. If you’d like to get closer to Nordic culture (or just watch Borgen without subtitles), you can begin your studies at Scandinavia House in midtown, which offers Swedish lessons, while the Danish Seamen’s Church and the Norwegian Language Institute can have you ordering smørrebrød and lutefisk in no time. scandinaviahouse.org, dankirkeny.org, norwegiannyc.com

Nature
A lawn is a dream out of reach of most New Yorkers. Even a windowsill garden can be a stretch depending on season and exposure. But if you’d like to bring more foliage into your life without sacrificing square footage, you can sign up for the “Terrarium-Making Workshop” at Twig Terrarium in Gowanus. You’ll combine moss, air plants, and succulents to create your own miniature green space. Adorable little person to live inside? Included! twigterrariums.com

Manhattan might seem a concrete jungle, but at Sherman Creek Park, located near the tip of Manhattan along the Harlem River, you can receive free instruction from the Urban Park Rangers on how to care for New York’s greenery. Late spring and summer classes include “Gardening in Sherman Creek,” “Tree and Lawn Care,” and “Invasive Removal.” nycgovparks.org

Photography
Maybe you thought there was little more to picture taking than pointing, clicking, and applying Instagram filter. New York Film Academy in Battery Park City respectfully disagrees. In the “Four-Week Photography Workshop” (sessions begin April 7 and July 7), students work five to six days a week to learn digital photography with such units as “Studio Practice” and “Documentary and Fine Art Photography.” nyfa.edu

Sport
Mark Twain supposedly described golf as a good walk spoiled, but at the petite Brooklyn Golf Center, you won’t have far to go. The wee driving range in Marine Park offers both private lessons and group clinics, plus classes for juniors. Display your new skills at the 18 holes nearby at Riis Park Beach, or simply show off at the attached miniature golf course. brooklyngolfcenter.com

Windsurfing circles were all aflutter when news broke that kiteboarding might replace breezier pursuits at the 2016 Olympics. But as the committee has restored windsurfing, you’d better restart your training. You can set sail at Hampton Watersports, a Southampton outfit that offers instruction for beginner and advanced windsurfers, as well as board and sail rentals. If you’re in kiteboarding’s corner, they have lessons in that, too, as well as regular surfing and paddleboarding. hamptonwatersports.com

Theater and Performing Arts
Unemployment statistics are pretty worrying, especially if you’re an actor: During any given week, more than 90 percent of actors are out of work. (Of course, this doesn’t count those working as temps, nannies, and waiters.) You can try to beat the odds with the “Crash Course MBA Weekend” at the Savvy Actor in midtown. Performers will learn how to brand and package themselves in order to land more jobs. thesavvyactor.com

If you’ve sashayed your way through all the ballet, modern, and tap you can stand, you can swap your flats for more perilous footwear at StripXpertease in midtown. The studio specializes in lap dancing and floor work, promising to teach you moves as diverse as “the V, the For Love, and the Swing.” The studio also offers “Stripper Strength: Sexy Samba” and “Stripper Strength: Booty Jiggle ‘N’ Pop.” Six-inch heels recommended. stripxpertease.com

Writing
In a late letter, Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “Literature is the most noble of professions. In fact, it is about the only one fit for a man.” If you’d like to take Poe at his word, the NYC Department of Parks offers free weekly writing classes adjacent to Poe’s former home on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Every Friday from 1:30 to 3 p.m., the visitor’s center hosts classes in fiction and nonfiction taught by established writers. And we have it on good authority that no heart beats beneath the floorboards. nycgovparks.org

Ah, the pleasures of summer in the city — the backyard parties, the Central Park picnics, the beer garden nights, the public pool days. But how can you enjoy it if you’re stuck inside, trying desperately to start your magnum opus? Happily, NYU‘s “Summer Intensive in Creative Writing” promises to pack a semester’s worth of writing instruction into just two weeks. Study poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in small classes with well-known writers. scps.nyu.edu

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THE ARTIST

Let’s hope Jeannette Bayardelle’s dressing room comes replete with throat lozenges, energy drinks, and maybe the occasional B-12 shot. She’ll need them for the nightly performances of her one-woman musical, for which she has also written the book, music, and lyrics. The story concerns a particularly New York portrait of an artist as a young woman. Shida, directed by Andy Sandberg, chronicles a girl’s journey from Catholic school in the Bronx to college at NYU and beyond as she pursues her writing dreams. Singing a “rock, jazz, r&b, and gospel music” score, Bayardelle, a Broadway vet with Hair and Color Purple credits, brings her tale to multi-octave life as part of the Summer Fling series.

Fridays, 5 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Mondays, 7 p.m. Starts: July 19. Continues through Aug. 28, 2013

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China Fast-tracks a New Satellite Campus of New York University—But the Price May be Intellectual Freedom

China is changing—or at least trying to. The country and its leaders have launched a number of ambitious campaigns to combat problems like pollution, energy use, and drastic economic inequality, while also hoping to bolster advanced-science industries and make the shift from export-oriented manufacturing to more domestic consumption.

One of China’s most dramatic missions, however, is its push to expand higher education. The Chinese government believes that educating its public—rather than just a small, elite group of overseers—will be a key step in solving some of the nation’s problems and crucial in creating a more multifaceted labor force like those found in the U.S. and Europe. Over the past decade China has doubled the number of colleges and universities in the country to more than 2,400, and it aims to produce 195 million new college graduates by the year 2020.

This boom has created new problems of its own. Recent Chinese college graduates are suffering from rampant unemployment, too proud to accept often-stigmatized factory jobs but unqualified for much else after attending subpar local institutions.

“For now, China’s people only care about the high degrees,” says Lifu Jin, a 23-year-old recent graduate of Beijing Normal University. “If you are a worker, if you are a technician, people will look down upon you. They don’t have a job for now, but they still feel a lot of superiority over the technicians, even though the technicians really make a good deal of money.”

This is the educational landscape, and social structure, that New York University will find itself in this fall, when it opens its new degree-granting campus in the Pudong district of Shanghai. As the Voice‘s Nick Pinto reported in February, this is but one part of the ambitious expansion plans put forth by university President John Sexton. The new campus will, according to NYU, offer a comprehensive four-year liberal arts education to roughly 1,500 of China’s brightest students, as well as an equal number of students from other countries (the vast majority from the U.S.).

Among the many overseas locations in Sexton’s planned $3 billion Global Network University campaign—a controversial effort that recently earned Sexton a no-confidence vote from NYU faculty, with as-yet unclear ramifications for the university’s future—NYU Shanghai is particularly uncharted territory. The decision to build a degree-granting satellite campus in the United States’ greatest economic rival, at a time of rising tuition costs back home and a foundering job market for recent American college graduates, has many NYU students and professors wondering who exactly NYU Shanghai is supposed to benefit.

Is the university sacrificing the needs of students and recent graduates in the U.S. for a new and lucrative market abroad? Can a true liberal arts education even exist under China’s authoritarian government?

NYU is “bringing altruistic liberal arts education to the Chinese as far as they’re concerned,” says Rebecca Karl, an East Asian Studies professor at the university for the past 16 years. “In a more critical vein, yes, this is outsourcing, this is branding, this has nothing to do with actual educational goals. It has to do with spreading the institutional religion—NYU’s institutional religion—to China.”

From a university’s perspective, the possible rewards for expanding into China are substantial, and the risks minimal. A new campus promises new revenue streams, easier access to fresh talent, and a greater presence in one of the world’s most powerful economies.

In NYU’s case, the local government is even donating the land and fronting the cash needed to build its facilities. Tuition at NYU Shanghai will be comparable to NYU in New York (one of the least affordable schools in the U.S.), and the city of Shanghai is also expected to supply scholarships for at-need Chinese and international students, according to an NYU spokesperson.

Western-style higher education, it seems, is a very valuable commodity in Shanghai, and one the Chinese are willing to go to great lengths to import for the right school.

“The Chinese education system is a disaster for the economy and for the country, and they need to reform it,” says Shaun Rein, author of The End of Cheap China and founder of the China Market Research Group (CMR). And though NYU Shanghai will do little to save a broken system, it’s hoped that a degree from an American university will carry more weight than one from all but a few top Chinese institutions.

More highly respected degrees could be one solution for a nation increasingly overrun with graduates armed with useless diplomas. China is pouring $250 billion a year into what economists call “human capital,” but the country lacks the office positions to absorb 8 million new ambitious college grads each year.

“In my hometown, it’s a very critical thing,” says Jin, who is originally from Chengdu, Sichuan. “There will be 80,000 people competing and struggling for 2,000 jobs, which means only one out of 40 will get a job, so it’s very serious right now.”

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Though Jin now works as a public relations manager at a hostel in Shanghai, he says many of his friends are still unemployed, refusing to take high-paying factory jobs that they view as “shameful.”

China has long sent more young people to the U.S. to study than any other country, but not every family can afford to send a child abroad, and not every student wants to be so far from home. The prospect of elite American universities offering a premium product right in their backyard is an attractive one.

“The thought is we don’t need to go abroad,” says Jin. “We can just spend less money and get what we want here.”

Professor Karl, however, is not convinced that the school will find enough students who can pay the tuition but don’t want to study in the U.S. She worries that NYU’s expansion into China will only worsen the country’s economic and social divide. While NYU Shanghai may be more affordable and convenient for some Chinese families than NYU in New York, the student body could ultimately end up looking all too familiar—made up of affluent students with high test scores out of high school.

“The NYU Shanghai degree will be a far more valuable degree to have than some two-year technical unaccredited local school,” Karl says. “However, of course, they are not attracting the same populations.

“As an educator, I don’t believe it’s harmful to educate people. Does it contribute ever more exponentially to the educational and class inequality in China and in the world? Yes, absolutely it does.”

The leaders of NYU Shanghai, for their part, insist that concerns like Karl’s are overblown. “My experience in China is so far so good,” says Jeffrey Lehman, vice chancellor and chief executive of NYU Shanghai, who also served as president of Cornell University from 2003 to 2005 and was the founding dean of the Peking University of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, the first law school to offer a Western-style curriculum in China. (Li Keqiang, China’s newly appointed prime minister, was educated there.)

“So far, it’s been absolutely possible to do what we at NYU Shanghai intend to do,” insists Lehman. “If that turns out not to be the case and we cannot operate the university there, then we leave. But my expectation is that we will be able to do exactly what we want to do.”

What NYU intends to accomplish in China—and what Lehman says the university and the city of Shanghai explicitly agreed upon before moving forward with their plans—is to be able to offer classes where freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and creativity can abound without fear of government censorship. Lehman himself will teach a mandatory first-year course on “global intellectual history” that includes elements of humanities and social sciences.

Even so, it’s hard to imagine that a graduate of NYU in China—a country where the Internet is closely monitored, books are banned, and discussing topics such as democracy and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre can still land a person in jail—will reap the same educational benefits as a graduate of NYU in New York City.

“I think the government is probably going to get much more involved with what the curriculum is, and that brings up issues of freedom of speech and academic discourse,” says Rein, whose own book has been banned in mainland China. “What happens when you start talking about philosophy and political theory? That’s something that I don’t know.”

The concern is that the Chinese government might issue curriculum restrictions, dictating what can and cannot be discussed in politics, humanities, and social science-based courses. According to Rein, offering a program like science management is a safer bet for American universities in China because it’s a field that the Chinese government greatly approves of.

Through CMR, Rein has done consulting for Duke University and New York’s Juilliard School, two institutions that have recently set in motion their own China expansion plans. Unlike NYU Shanghai, neither Duke’s new campus in the city of Kunshan nor Juilliard’s planned facility in Yujiapu, Tianjin, will grant undergraduate degrees to Chinese students. Rather, the focus will be on graduate programs and pre-college instruction, respectively. Rein advises his clients against trying to duplicate degrees offered in their home nations for fear of diluting the schools’ brands. It seems nearly impossible for an American institution to be able to provide an identical liberal arts education in a political system so very different from our own.

“A lot of people are asking, ‘Is an NYU Shanghai degree as valuable as a New York one?'” he says. “So I think they’re walking a very dangerous line.”

Still, predicts Rein, “in the short term it’s going to be a boon for the universities from an economic standpoint. But I think it also means that America has to adjust, because we’re going to see far more competitive workers coming out of China than ever before.”

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Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., agrees that more highly employable, bilingual Chinese college graduates could prove alluring to multinational employers. “I think it’s only a matter of time until you really start to see businesses ramp up their efforts in a big way to take advantage of college-educated workers in the developing world, because there are a lot of opportunities,” explains Baker. “I think you’ll see many more cases where we have accounting, engineering, software, architecture—all of these things—being outsourced to China rather than these people actually coming to the United States and working here.”

Baker notes that while cheaper foreign labor in these high-skill sectors could benefit U.S. businesses and our economy as a whole, it will put added pressure on recent American college graduates looking for work. In the end, though, NYU is a private institution—and business—and not a branch of the U.S. government concerned with economic woes and job creation. If a Chinese college graduate beats out an American college graduate for a lucrative job, well, they’ll hope that that Chinese grad went to NYU Shanghai.

Jennifer Barron, 21, is a senior economics major at NYU in New York. Like many students preparing to finish school this spring, Barron is busy weighing her post-graduate options and applying for jobs.

“It’s definitely a concern,” she says, fresh from an interview with Vivaldi Partners Group, a market research and brand strategy firm in the city. “A lot of people who were even interviewing me today were foreign nationals—they were from all over the world. [Foreign competition] definitely plays into everything, but I don’t think it necessarily makes me feel like I’m not going to get a job.”

What is more of an immediate concern for Barron and other NYU students is high tuition, student loans, and plans to improve NYU on continents they may never actually visit.

“I personally don’t know if I see the value in having satellite campuses that are for all four years,” she says. “If you can’t solve the problems at home, you shouldn’t be worried about the problems abroad just yet.”

All of which raises the question: Besides bringing in money for its parent university, what is the ultimate purpose of NYU Shanghai?

“I don’t see what constituency this school is supposed to be serving,” says Karl, who has taught Chinese undergraduates studying at NYU New York and has described some as “rigid” in their thinking because of the strict rote learning practiced in Chinese grade schools. “If it shies away from controversial social science, and journalism, and all of the things that, of course, require a certain amount of freedom and freedom of speech, then perhaps it’ll find its niche somewhere and there will be enough students to fill the classrooms. But I’m skeptical.”