The United Arab Emirates barred professor Andrew Ross from entering the country over spring break due to “unspecified
security concerns.” A vocal critic of the UAW government in the past, Ross teaches social and cultural analysis and researches labor issues. The goal of the trip was to continue researching labor conditions. NYU Abu Dhabi has received negative attention in the past, but never for concrete infringements on academic freedom. Unfortunately, the administration’s response to this travel ban has been minimal. If NYUAD is to continue operating in a country with serious human rights violations, the administration must at least take a strong public stance against academic limitations on its faculty.
The university’s official position emphasizes that NYU cannot control the country’s immigration policies, and cites a recent case of an NYU-affiliated individual who was denied entry to the United States. The administration also stated they “believe in the free movement of people and ideas.” Yet Ross has not received support from the administration and NYU President John Sexton has been troublingly silent on the issue — he has not made a public comment as of print time.
Denying Ross entry to the country is only the latest example of NYU and the UAE being embroiled in controversy. In January 2015, Human Rights Watch reported that labor abuses were still occurring on Saadiyat Island. In addition, The Gazelle reported that Skype had been blocked in the country, including on campus. There are troubling reports from Newsweek and Reuters of press suppression and dissenters being subject to “abduction-like arrests.” These are troubling salvos against free speech that are in direct contention with Sexton’s affirmations of “our standards of academic freedom.” The government of Abu Dhabi covering all the costs associated with NYUAD makes it almost impossible for the satellite campus to uphold free
As the sitting president, it is Sexton’s job to comment on issues of academic freedom such as this one, especially considering that the opening of NYUAD — which was controversial in the first place — was Sexton’s pet project. Andrew Hamilton, the incoming president of NYU, has beaten Sexton to the punch in making a definitive statement about the issue. In a recent interview, Hamilton said. “There’s no question in my mind that academic freedom is the bedrock of success at great universities around the world.” Hamilton rightly noted that Sexton “has unfinished businesses to take care of with regards to
It is unacceptable that a week has passed without comment from Sexton on this issue, though NYU spokesperson John Beckman responded in the original New York Times piece. Sexton must unequivocally condemn Ross’ travel ban, which amounts to nothing more than governmental bullying.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 23 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]