Are Freedom of Speech and NYU’s Global Campus Incompatible?


Theo Wayt, Staff Writer

NYU’s widely-marketed global campus is an important part of its appeal. Though most schools co-opt international points of view, style or language during their sales pitches, our system of international campuses is truly one of the most expansive in the world. As we continue to gather disparate global campuses under a single purple banner, the NYU community inevitably encounters difficult ethical questions.

In particular, as the NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute expands, the department faces a particularly troublesome challenge: restrictions on free speech. Journalists in the United States have a large amount of legal leeway in pursuing stories and, when necessary, can criticize public figures, corporations, governments and other powers that be, mostly without fear of legal repercussions. President Donald Trump’s neo-fascist anti-media rhetoric has had some terrifying results, though. According to a report in the Hill, 67 percent of Republicans have convinced themselves that the media simply fabricates negative stories about Trump. This report also shows that 46 percent agree with the president’s assertion that the federal government should have the power to revoke the broadcast licenses of news organizations the government claims are fabricating stories. But the fact that I can voice my view of the president as a neo-fascist is important — thanks to constitutional checks and balances, American journalists are, so far, still allowed to speak their minds.

Schools like NYU are responsible for training journalists to stand up to all types of authoritarianism, and to put the right to information and democratic free speech above nationalistic allegiances. However, two of NYU Journalism’s flagship campuses are located in areas that are hostile to free speech: Abu Dhabi, UAE; and Shanghai, China. In light of recent events, and because China’s anti-press sins are more widely known, I will focus on Abu Dhabi.

In the words of press watchdog Freedom House, “Nearly all media outlets serving Emirati audiences are either owned or heavily influenced by the authorities, and individuals who use internet-based platforms to publicize dissenting views or sensitive information increasingly face arbitrary detention or criminal prosecution.”

When NYU opened its Abu Dhabi campus, perhaps administrators thought that our foreign capital could buy academic freedom. Just last month, however, an NYU journalism professor was denied entry to the country, which he believes was because of his religious affiliation. In the past, NYU professors were turned away due to academic work critical of the UAE government, and students have experienced internet restrictions. In many ways, the UAE simply does not adhere to American standards of journalistic and academic freedom.

But how can NYU train journalists within nations that repress free speech? Is it ethical to sacrifice academic freedom for access to these students? On one hand, change in countries like the UAE must come democratically from within, and NYU Abu Dhabi can encourage citizens to think critically about government to a certain extent. On the other, are we doing a disservice to students by passing off a censored version of an American education as the full package? There is no easy answer, but more extensive student body awareness and dialogue are necessary.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. Email Theo Wayt at [email protected]

A version of this appeared in the Monday, Oct. 23 print edition. Email [email protected]