Opinion: NYU’s handling of COVID-19 is a valid reason to take a leave of absence

Between confused faculty and administrators, ineffective online learning methods and a tuition of $80,000 per year, it’s OK that you want time off.


Manasa Gudavalli

Despite opting for in-person classes this spring, NYU has not provided adequate support to students and faculty — making it difficult for them to navigate the new semester amid the ongoing pandemic. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

Jules Roscoe, UTA Staff Editor

NYU announced its spring 2022 reopening plans in a university-wide email on Jan. 12. The reaction was a mix of enthusiasm and concern. Students have been yearning for a normal college experience, but the highly contagious omicron variant continues to loom over us. To combat COVID-19, NYU has been adjusting their response in accordance with the latest health guidelines: a new masking policy, a booster requirement and a two-week period of hybrid learning. NYU senior leadership said they aim to “keep the safety and health of the University at forefront of our policy-setting.” And they’ve done an impressively terrible job.

NYU has effectively decided against a remote semester, raising health concerns among students and faculty regarding omicron. To now be thrown back into a so-called normal college environment is a jarring shift from the disjointed and erratic education we’ve had for the last two years. Although a return to normal might have been the right choice in other circumstances, the reality is that NYU’s administration cannot force normalcy during an ever-evolving global pandemic.

The university’s new mask policy strongly encourages KN95, KF94 or N95 face coverings — but the university fails to provide them to its students; Thankfully, NYU’s student government plans to distribute them as the term gets underway. Meanwhile, students who contracted COVID-19 before they returned to New York are stuck at home and missing out on their education. The administration’s emphasis on flexibility says that faculty should accommodate remote learning for students who need it during the first two weeks. However, the administration has given no guidance on how to handle the abrupt transition, and many faculty members aren’t following the guidance at all.

The university’s policy notably neglects students’ mental health, too. People are afraid, people are sick and people are dying. It’s hard to focus on your education when you’re dodging disease. It’s times like these when you need community, and NYU is making every effort to ensure that you don’t have one. All Welcome Week events are virtual and all club meetings must be held over Zoom. 

“Zoom is no substitute for in-person discussion between students, TAs and professors,” CAS sophomore Julia Catacutan, who took a leave of absence for the spring 2021 semester, said. “Amidst the technical issues and black screens, I often felt disconnected from the subject and other people.”

Furthermore, NYU has taken measures that make it difficult to meet even basic needs. University gyms are closed, although multiple studies suggest that regular exercise helps reduce the severity of a COVID-19 infection. Eating on campus has been made nearly impossible, which can promote unhealthy habits and mental health issues among students with eating disorders.

And yet, tuition and board is still a staggering $80,878 a year. For that much money, NYU should be putting its students first. This isn’t the college experience any of us wanted — and it’s certainly not the one we’re paying for. The way NYU has handled this pandemic is a valid reason to take a leave of absence.

Rory Meyers senior Amanda Zhao took the fall 2020 semester off. As a nursing student doing clinical work, she spent a lot of time in close contact with COVID-19 patients and even dealt with two scares. 

“[School] was super overwhelming,” Zhao said. “I had to take time away for my mental health. I’m still a bit paranoid.” 

If you feel overwhelmed, or if you think there’s a better use of your time right now, don’t be afraid to take a leave of absence — just decide soon. NYU’s tuition refund deadline is quickly approaching. NYU can wait a few more months for their 80 grand. What matters is that you get the most from your experience as an NYU student.

Contact Jules Roscoe at [email protected]