For years, NYU Abu Dhabi has been associated with controversy due to the inhumane means by which the campus was built. Eventually, NYU apologized for looking the other way while people who built the campus were underpaid and underfed. If this was not bad enough, this publication is now reporting that multiple teachers and a student have been discriminated against in the country due to religious beliefs and academic work. In light of these new revelations, NYU must decide whether it wants to be the university of diversity, equity and inclusion that it claims to be. The days of turning a blind eye are over.
In 2007, John Sexton, NYU president at the time, announced the opening of the Abu Dhabi campus. Sexton claimed the new campus would be the product of “a shared understanding of the essential roles and challenges of higher education in the 21st century” between the university and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Furthermore, he vowed the new campus would adhere to NYU’s values of equality and inclusion, even issuing labor protections. However, in 2014, The New York Times revealed Abu Dhabi’s construction workers were not only working 11 to 12 hours a day, they were being underpaid as well. Some workers were even arrested, beaten and deported after protesting these conditions. Three years later, it has been revealed that multiple professors and a student have been denied visas and permits due to either their religion or their academic work. This is a blatant violation of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and everything this university stands for.
Amid all this, it is time that NYU more explicitly addresses the issues that are present in its Abu Dhabi campus. Not forcefully vocalizing opposition to the academic restriction of students and professors is simply unacceptable, even if the issue is out of the university’s jurisdiction. As an exceptionally large university with more than 50,000 students, NYU should more actively support its community members. This includes students and staff of Abu Dhabi, where its $1 billion campus brought in the first wave of development to the largely deserted Saadiyat Island. This has been going on for years, and NYU seems satisfied in accepting that this is a government issue, entirely out of its control. What NYU neglects to mention is that a member of the Board of Trustees, Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, is also Abu Dhabi’s chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority. Al Mubarak was essential in obtaining the funding for NYUAD, so obviously he holds power.
If NYU truly is a global campus, then the values that this university lives by do not get to change depending on the regions in which its campuses are located. This university advertises itself as a place deeply committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. Therefore, the administration must speak out against the blatant discrimination of the NYU family by the United Arab Emirates government. If this is truly entirely out of NYU’s hands, then one can only wonder why NYU is continuing to reside in and contribute to Abu Dhabi in the first place.
A version of this appeared in the Monday, Oct. 2 print edition.
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