As 670 students begin the fall semester at NYU Abu Dhabi, professor Andrew Ross has still not been allowed back onto campus after being barred from the United Arab Emirates in March. Professor Ross reported earlier this month on the American Association of University Professors’ blog that NYU’s attempts to reverse the decision have yet to succeed. NYU cannot claim to be committed to academic freedom when it is powerless to act in the face of these travel restrictions. The UAE’s troubling record of jailing journalists should have warned NYU that efforts to establish a liberal campus would be hampered in the UAE and that the ideals of free inquiry would never be fully realized.
In a letter dated Sept. 1, provost David McLaughlin wrote that the NYU administration had petitioned the U.S. Department of State and that NYU’s presence in Abu Dhabi was a noble idea, representing an attempt to bridge the gap between two cultures whose laws do not align. While McLaughlin might mean well, expanding NYU abroad is a form of intellectual colonialism that ignores the UAE’s troubling record of arbitrary detention and systematic torture, as reported by Human Rights Watch. It was naive for the administration to assume that they could replicate the freedom enjoyed by NYU New York in Abu Dhabi, and it was even more so to enter the agreement without planning for disputes.
The situation is further exacerbated by financial complications. NYUAD is financed entirely by the Abu Dhabi government, meaning the university itself has little financial stake in the campus and little to no say in the actions of the government regarding the campus. This lack of leverage means that efforts at negotiation between NYU and the government would be pointless. Moreover, the administration has been so secretive that no one outside the deal was able to foresee such problems, much less garner support for potential solutions.
To maintain its academic integrity, this administration’s only ethical choice is to suspend activities at the NYUAD campus until Ross is allowed into the country, and the government of Abu Dhabi gives their word that NYU students and staff will have free entry and exit. NYU’s response, or more accurately, their lack of one, sets a dangerous precedent for a university that aims to become truly global. This incident may soon pale in comparison to the drastic violations of freedom of speech that that could easily be imposed upon NYU’s campuses abroad. At the inception of the campus, NYU signed away its academic integrity to the whims of a notoriously oppressive government. They must now move to rectify this lack of control.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, September 21 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]