Professor barred from Abu Dhabi

Valentina Duque Bojanini

After attempting to board an Abu Dhabi-bound Etihad Airways flight on March 14, NYU professor Andrew Ross was informed by United Arab Emirates authorities that he was barred entry into the country.

Ross planned to spend the week in Abu Dhabi, where he was to conduct research into labor issues surrounding migrant workers on NYU’s Saadiyat Island campus. Ross called the incident an issue of academic freedom that requires the university’s intervention.

“I will continue my work if the NYU administration intervenes to ensure the UAE ban is lifted,” Ross said. “Since academic freedom is the lifeblood of any university, and this is a clear violation of it, it is paramount that the administration takes steps to guarantee unrestricted passage to the UAE for all NYU faculty and students.”

Ross received an email from provost David McLaughlin on Wednesday regarding the travel ban. McLaughlin said in cases like these the university tries to ensure there is justification behind immigration decisions, and they are speaking to relevant authorities about Ross’ case.

“We cannot know all the thinking that goes into any immigration authority’s decisions about who is or is not granted a visa, and we’ve had people who were coming to our campus in New York on academic matters who have been denied visas by the US authorities, including one in the last few days,” McLaughlin said.  “Whenever such cases arise we emphasize the principle of mobility and advocate to the relevant decision-makers that any limitation should be justified by good cause.”

As both a member of the the Coalition for Fair Labor at NYU and the president of NYU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, Ross has often criticized labor violations at NYUAD. The CFL also condemned the travel ban and said in a statement on March 16 that they believe the ban is a response to Ross’ criticism of labor practices during the construction of the NYUAD campus.

“The fact that professor Ross was barred from travel to the UAE, the site of NYU’s main ‘global network’ campus in Abu Dhabi, represents a gross violation of academic freedom,” the statement reads.

NYU spokesperson John Beckman said the university has not had issues with academic freedom on the NYUAD campus, and added that faculty have the right to discuss issues like labor rights in the classroom.

“We’ve had five years of running a campus in Abu Dhabi, and our faculty and students have experienced zero infringements on their academic freedom, even when conducting classes about sensitive topics,” Beckman said.

NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller said more has to be done to protect academic freedom for professors inside and outside
the classroom.

“If there were academic freedom at NYU Abu Dhabi, our faculty and students there could openly investigate the world beyond their splendid compound,” Miller said. “They could raise public questions about anything they want, including the regime. They could, in short, do what professor Ross was not allowed to do.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 23 print edition. Email Valentina Duque Bojanini at [email protected]

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