Yu Lizhong: an educator with a social media wit

China Plus Published: 2018-12-14 11:08:56
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Yu Lizhong, the chancellor of New York University Shanghai, is one of the first university presidents who embrace the social media platforms Weibo in China. Now, he has more than 1.5 million followers. While some educators frown at social media for being a distraction for students, Yu Lizhong puts it high on his agenda. Find out why in this episode of "Deep Dive: Talks with Chinese Internationals".

Yu Lizhong: an educator with a social media wit

Yu Lizhong, the chancellor of New York University Shanghai [Photo: provided to China Plus]

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A Man Who Believes in Education and Love

by Manling, host of China Plus

Search for the name Yu Lizhong on Sina Weibo or if you have come to know him and decided to scan his WeChat QR code to join his friend circle, you will immediately see his ID picture, the one with an iconic broad smile he has chosen to represent his public image, and you can't help becoming infected by the sunshine in his mood.

Happy, liberal-minded, and endearing, this tall man initially impressed me as a pleasant interviewee and it appears that my instinctive feeling was correct.

Yu Lizhong: an educator with a social media wit

Yu Lizhong, the chancellor of New York University Shanghai [Photo: provided to China Plus]

Our conversation started with social media, since we were being live-streamed on Facebook. Knowing that publicity and exposure on the Internet is a double-edge sword, he had the psychological preparedness when he was given the choice on whether or not to open an account in person to directly face his students and be exposed to the public. Many other university presidents have chosen to deal with student affairs through secretaries or other subordinate administrative staff. Yu decided to embrace the latest technology simply because it's the most effective, efficient, direct and accurate way in communicating with his students. It's his duty to get to know his pupils, expound school policies to them by concise explanation, and to build up trust and understanding between students and the school management.

Currently as Chancellor of the NYU Shanghai, his attitude towards students and open mindedness is consistent with his past behaviors. Before becoming head of the NYU Shanghai, he served as President of both Shanghai Normal University and East China Normal University. During his tenure, he kept in close contact with his students and his faculty by spending time on inner campus social net via BBS, the then latest communication means he could have laid hands on. This online presence proved beneficial in dissolving people's doubt whether the school canteen was using gutter oil to cook food after someone was spotted doing something highly suspicious in a photo, which caught the attention of social media users.

Social media is time consuming even for ordinary people, let alone a school principal like Mr. Yu. When asked how he manages to juggle various roles and split time among different tasks, he says he prioritizes them and used the remainder of his fragmented time to make himself available to students and faculty. When asked more challenging questions such as: if not for this Facebook live-streaming interview, we would not have had the chance to sit across from each other and be able to enjoy such a pleasant conversation. Is new technology replacing the good old ways of person to person communication? Are we in fact depriving people, including ourselves, of such pleasure and pushing people further away from real social life, giving rise to more depression and loneliness? Social media is instant and imminent, but they are not real interactions. Typing words or sending voice messages can be misleading which may result in misunderstanding and awkward situations. Chancellor Yu said that that's why he uses a lot of Emojis in social media conversations and his favorite ones are symbols of smiles, laughs, thankyous, handshakes, "jiayous", and so on. These are all positive, inspiring and encouraging symbols. I asked, "Do you ever use negative symbols?" "No, never!" he said. He also said social media should never replace in-person gatherings and meetings. Whenever there is a need to address urgent situations, he will resort to calling for a meeting because they are very effective and efficient. For other occasions, keeping in touch with people especially with students is for emotional building purposes. Not only educators need to know what the students are thinking and what they need, but they should also care about the students in order to serve them better. Students are people and all people need respect and love before they are ready to open up to interact with others. And modern technology is such a bestowed blessing for him to make his job easier.

I have to agree that if there wasn't such a firm belief in communication, it will be very hard to justify why he made extraordinary efforts in using social media. If he wasn't driven by the urgent need to stay in touch with his students, he wouldn't have the justification to go out of his way and wouldn't have bothered to use his real name to open a verified-name Sina Weibo account to become one of the first university presidents in China to do so. Also, he wouldn't be so eager to consistently add more friends to his WeChat friends circle. While many of his peers still remain clumsy with social media applications and some have simply been left behind this information era, he has persevered in keeping up with times by staying at the fore front of technological applications in order to better serve his students and to fulfill his career dream.

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