Over 200 members of the student body and faculty massed in NYU Shanghai’s quad on Monday, May 8, in support of Chinese language teachers after it was revealed they had been earning a salary around a quarter of that earned by other members of the university’s faculty. 

Caption: Whiteboard at the event that demonstrates the income disparity between income being made by Chinese Language Lectures and other faculty members. 

Photo credits: Keigan Carpenter

The event was organized by the Chinese Language Faculty in collaboration with Dr. Steven Iams, a clinical professor of English for Academic Purposes (EPA).  During the peaceful 1 hour event, members of the community spoke with support and encouragement for the Chinese faculty, while others articulated their thoughts on whiteboards 

Caption: Other whiteboards where students shared their thoughts and opinions. 

Photo credits: Keigan Carpenter

Recently elected vice president of the student body, Carson Decker, class of 2026, said  it was a “multi-pronged issue” that points to a lack of accountability in the administration and simple unfairness within the university.  

“A disparity in pay from a school this large (the whole NYU network) is simply unacceptable,” Decker said. 

“Humans are not just capital for investment… if they really are essential to the values of this university, then pay them what they are actually worth, and they are worth more than just their ‘market value.” 

He said he hopes to use his position within the student government to act as a means of support for the Chinese Language Faculty and push for change. 

Other students at the event evoked a feeling of overwhelming support for the Chinese Language Faculty and disappointment with action taken by the university leadership. 

“I rely heavily on the Chinese 老师 [lǎo shī,teachers]. 1. To survive in this country; and 2. To help me graduate,” said Leo Shirky, class of 2023. “Given how much the students here pay for this education, it is only fair that Chinese language faculty are paid the same amount for the same work,” he added.

Caption: Students standing wearing buttons. From left to right: Carter Christensen, Bi 老师[lǎo shī,teacher], Leo Shirky

Photo credits: Keigan Carpenter

Members of the Chinese Language Faculty also took time during the event to sincerely thank students for their love and support. When asked what she felt about the turnout for the event, Yuan (老师), a senior Chinese Language Lecturer, said “我爱这个学校,我爱这个学校的学生,我希望我可以很骄傲的,受到尊重的,在这个学校继续工作下去。“

Translation: “I love this school, and I love this school’s students. I hope I can continue to work in this school with pride and respect.”

Caption: All of the Chinese Language Faculty gathered around the whiteboard written on by students. 

Photo credits: Henry Frazier

After the event, Professor Iams, who played an integral role in the day’s proceedings, said his support for the language teachers began 4 years ago when he was a senator for contract faculty and NYU’s affordability committee did a study that revealed Chinese language faculty were “getting paid much lower rate than other faculty.” 

In response to this study, he said : “We (the Contract Faculty) passed a resolution that was widely supported by faculty here and in New York but yet at the end of this process the response was that they are being paid fairly based on their ‘market value’”. 

He added that after the disruptions of COVID, he felt it was really important the university not give up on pursuing the issue. 

“The Chinese language faculty has been the driving force, but they found their voices and it has been a privilege to join hands with them” he said. 

“We are not naive, we understand that different professions are paid differently…but within the walls of our university we have people doing very similar work to the Chinese language faculty getting paid vastly different amounts of money, and that doesn’t sit right with us”. 

Students who participated in the event were also prompted to send a blank email with the subject line “Human Values not Market Values” to the likes of senior administrators, namely Vice Chancellor Jeffery Lehman, Provost Joanna Waley-Cohen, and Dean of Students, David Pe. 

In addition to the activity held in the quad space, Chinese Language Faculty and other professors have been posting signs on their door that read “The NYU Market Value…Am I Worth It?”.

Caption: The sign posted on an NYU Shanghai office door 

Photo credits: Keigan Karpenter

Chinese language faculty have also been wearing buttons with the same message, and students have started to wear buttons with a corresponding message: “Yes! You are worth it 老师 [lǎo shī,teacher]!” Other variations of the buttons have also been created with some reading “Human values not market values” and “同工同酬” [tóng gōng tóng chóu].

Translation: “Equal pay for equal work” 

When asked about the buttons Bi 老师, a Senior Chinese language lecturer Bi (老师 ) said the buttons were an idea created around April 25. 

“They are meant to open the conversation and dialogue,” she said. 

She added she was “both surprised and thankful that the students and other faculty members came together and were able to stand in support”. 

Caption: Close up on the buttons and Annie Church and Ivy-Maria Williams, class of 2025 (Left to right) wearing them. 

Photo credits: Keigan Carpenter

In response to Monday’s event, Vice Chancellor Lehman sent a reply to students who had originally emailed him (during the event) that stated, “NYU Shanghai has worked to ensure that it is compensating Chinese Language lecturers fairly, taking into consideration other comparable institutions’ practices in similar situations.” 

After stating that this inquiry (the evaluation for the salary of Chinese language lecturers) is necessary in order to deploy students tuition to “give them the best possible education with the available resources,” he then concludes the email by stating: “To be clear, no one at NYU Shanghai has suggested that human value is equivalent to market value. Compensation for work is not a measure of human value. Unlike human value, which must be equal, compensation for work is to be judged according to whether it is fair.”