Students Support Faculty Letter, Urging Hamilton to Respond to NYU’s UAE Relationship

Hamilton told faculty signatories in an email that he had spoken to senior officials in the Abu Dhabi government as well as Durham University’s vice chancellor about Matthew Hedges’ life sentence.

NYU's Student Government Association drafts a petition, joining the over 200 professors who urged NYU President Andrew Hamilton to condemn the UAE government late last week. (Courtesy of Aizaz Ansari)

Two days after faculty members published a letter urging President Andrew Hamilton to condemn the United Arab Emirates’ sentencing of Durham University postgraduate student Matthew Hedges, Alternate Senator-at-large and CAS Senior Leen Dweik began to draft a letter in support of the faculty.

Although Dweik started drafting the letter before the Emirati government granted clemency to Hedges — who was arrested back in May under the charge of spying for the British government — Dweik and the other club organizers behind it still maintain the validity of their concerns that students and faculty at NYU Abu Dhabi could, in the future, have similar experiences to Hedges. The letter also urges the university to put a set of procedures in place at NYUAD to ensure academic freedom is not undermined on campus.

The faculty letter, which was publicly released last Thursday, gaining 224 signatures to date, similarly urged a response from Hamilton — asking him to publicly condemn the actions of the UAE government and to set measures to protect academic freedom at all NYU campuses.

In an email to the faculty who signed the letter, Hamilton said he had spoken about Hedges’ sentencing to senior officials in the Abu Dhabi government and the vice-chancellor of Durham University. Hamilton did not directly address the faculty letter’s demands to create a permanent committee to protect academic freedom at all NYU sites and a set of protocols in the event academic freedom is threatened at any of NYU’s global campuses in the statement.

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“Hedges being pardoned is great, but it doesn’t change the actual conditions that allowed him to be arrested and sentenced in the first place,” said Dweik in a message to WSN. “NYU needs a process in place to deal with such proceedings in case something like this ever happens to NYU faculty or students.”

She believes that NYU still needs to address academic freedom at NYU, despite Hedges’ sudden pardoning. This is why she helped draft the letter, which she said will be released to the public.

Even though Hamilton responded to the faculty letter shortly before the UAE government pardoned Hedges, faculty are still asking Hamilton to publicly address Hedges’ sentencing and academic freedom at NYUAD. Faculty also plan to host a forum on the Hedges case and academic freedom in the UAE, open to all members of the NYU community, on Dec. 3.

English Professor John Archer, who also helped draft the faculty letter, felt that Hamilton still needed to respond to Hedges’ sentencing because of how the sentencing may have impacted the British academic’s life and research.

As [Hedges] remains under a guilty conviction in the UAE, and can’t travel to the region to do research, for instance, he is still under an unjust cloud and may suffer professional impairment despite the time and expense he has already put into his graduate program,” Archer said. “A pardon does not erase a legal judgment, it only represents clemency. And so, Andrew Hamilton is still invited to publicly address the conviction.”

Dweik said that NYU needs to reassess its relationship with NYUAD — not only because of Hedges’ situation, but because of preceding instances like the UAE barring students and faculty which they believed was on the basis of their research interests and religious affiliations.

“As it stands, our Abu Dhabi campus is mired in attacks on academic freedom, human rights abuses, labor rights abuses, etc.” Dweik said. “If our presence in Abu Dhabi is to continue, we have to radically restructure how NYUAD exists and functions, both academically and in relation to the broader UAE population.”

Correction, Nov. 28: This article was originally published with a caption that stated the NYU Abu Dhabi Student Government drafted the petition. However, it was the New York campus’s Student Government Association.

Correction, Nov. 28: A previous version of the article said members of the Student Government Assembly were behind the letter in support of the faculty letter that was publicly released last Thursday. However, only Alternate Senator-at-large and CAS Senior Leen Dweik drafted the letter.

Email Meghna Maharishi at [email protected].

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