Letter to the Editor: NYUAD and academic freedom

John Beckman

To the editor:

It is regrettable whenever a scholar is prohibited from entering any country. The mobility of people and ideas is an important companion to free expression and the free exchange of ideas. And while Prof. Ross was not traveling to NYU’s campus in Abu Dhabi, NYU responded to his problems gaining entry by reaching out to both the US government and the UAE government in hopes that the incident involving him will be resolved.

But Sept. 21’s WSN editorial wrongly confuses the ability to operate a campus in accord with the norms of academic freedom and the ability of of a university to dictate decisions of a nation about who is allowed to enter its borders. At NYU, we have the former; but no university is in a position to do the latter, even those that operate only in the US. Let me explain.

First and foremost, as both faculty and students at NYUAD routinely affirm and as journalists who have visited the campuses have written, academic freedom is thriving there. It is the case that those in the UAE do not have the full, broad set of freedoms as those in the US, but our faculty at NYUAD are able to teach what they wish, are able to pursue the research they wish, and are able to hold classroom discussions are as vigorous and varied as they are in our historic home in New York City.

A second point is that no university anywhere can expect to have control over a country’s borders and visa decisions. That is just as true in the US as it is in the UAE — scholars invited to events on campuses around the globe are sometimes refused entry, hereherehere and here, even to events at our own NYC campus, here. If the trigger for a campus to close were that a particular student or a scholar couldn’t gain entry to a particular country, campuses all over the world, including in the US, would have to close.

Lastly, At NYU, we believe that global engagement is the right course for our university, our faculty, and our students in fulfilling our research and educational missions in the 21st century. We believe the values of the liberal arts and free inquiry are hardy; they have withstood many challenges — even within our own nation — and can succeed in other settings, too.  And, finally, we believe our presence in these nations and societies brings more freedom of ideas, not less.

Sincerely,

John Beckman

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