Faculty Discuss NYU’s Ties to Abu Dhabi

NYU's Abu Dhabi campus. NYU faculty held a townhall to discuss the university's relationship with the satellite campus. (Courtesy of Aizaz Ansari)

NYU faculty sponsored an open forum on Monday to discuss the university’s ties with the United Arab Emirates after the sentencing of British postgraduate student, Matthew Hedges. Hedges’ sentencing also prompted over 200 faculty members to sign a letter urging President Andrew Hamilton to condemn the actions of the Emirati government.

Around 40 faculty members attended the forum. No administrators were present. University spokesperson John Beckman said that administrators will instead attend a meeting with faculty in the Global Network Committee to discuss NYU’s presence in Abu Dhabi.

At the event, NYU Abu Dhabi Assistant History Professor Lauren Minsky, Social and Cultural Analysis Professor Andrew Ross and Assistant Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Professor Arang Keshavarzian recounted their experiences with the Emirati government and questioned if it is possible for academic freedom to exist at NYU Abu Dhabi. Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Professor Zachary Lockman moderated the forum. After the professors spoke, the event was open to questions and comments from audience members.

Minsky recounted her experience of vehicular intimidation, which involved nearly two hours of tailing by who she believed was government police while driving down a highway when she was a professor at NYUAD.

“This was not surveillance but harassment and they’re sending a clear message to stop,” Minsky said. “I was left wondering for the rest of my time in Abu Dhabi, ‘stop what?’ I was almost paralyzed with disbelief by this whole incident and it made me withdraw a lot from campus life.”

Minsky then continued to say that she reported the incident to the administration at NYUAD.

“I cannot emphasize this strongly enough but it was almost like nothing ever happened,” Minsky said. “Instead, there were various actions taken by the administration in wake of my reporting that basically made it impossible for my family to continue to work in the UAE.”

Keshavarzian lamented that Hamilton had not made public statements condemning the UAE’s actions in the past when he and Associate Journalism Professor Mohamad Bazzi were denied security clearances to teach at NYUAD.

“Even when several departments took the unprecedented step to call on the administration through public letters, to make a public statement criticizing the UAE government, Andy Hamilton refused to do so,” Keshavarzian said. “He has never made a public statement. He has only made internal NYU emails, and he’s never once picked up the telephone to talk to me or  [Bazzi] or any of us to learn exactly happened to us and to learn what exactly the consequences were for us and our families.”

After Keshavarzian spoke, audience members debated the lack of representation of NYUAD students and faculty at the forum.

On audience member, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Professor and NYUAD faculty member Philip Kennedy believed that what the faculty members said at the event was one-sided.

“I was interested to note the number of sponsors mentioned,” Kennedy said. “Where is NYU Abu Dhabi in that? Why are three people and [Lockman] here with an antagonistic voice on NYU Abu Dhabi without any of the faculty there on this floor? It strikes me as a bit flawed. I’m not sure there’s a level playing field here.”

At the end of the event, English Professor John Archer presented a resolution that included making the memorandums of understanding between NYU and Abu Dhabi public and reevaluating existing protocols to ensure that academic freedom is protected at all global sites. A majority of audience members expressed support for the resolution.

Email Meghna Maharishi at [email protected].

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