A Look at the Terms That Built NYUAD

A 2007 provost’s report offered an in-depth look into the initial negotiations between NYU and Abu Dhabi.

Students walking on NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus. (Staff Photo by Sam Klein)

A 2007 provost’s report offering an overview of the university’s current and potential global sites resurfaced on Twitter last week when English Professor John Archer tweeted about the legal framework of NYU Abu Dhabi. The report had a section on NYUAD from when the university was still looking to establish a campus in the United Arab Emirates. While NYUAD welcomed its inaugural class in 2010, this document offers the most in-depth look on the memorandums of understanding between the university and Abu Dhabi, which are still not public.

Follow the Money

The report touched on various monetary transactions and benefits that would result from the institution of NYUAD. For one, money would transfer from the Abu Dhabi government to NYU in the form of peer-reviewed research grants. 

The government would also “fully fund both the capital and operating budgets of NYUAD,” suggesting UAE money would cover any costs incurred by NYU. However, funding was not be limited to the Abu Dhabi campus — Washington Square faculty “deeply engaged in activities at NYUAD,” and departments that have some amount of faculty teach at the global site and so “choose to increase in size” would have funds made available to them. This implies that if additional faculty were added to a department to teach in NYUAD, the UAE government would pay some amount to the department. 

In addition, the complete cost of “construction, equipping, maintenance, and facilities’ operation” at NYUAD would be covered by the Executive Authority of Abu Dhabi, which has final say over the budget. If the operation of the NYUAD campus is permanently or even temporarily suspended, the Authority will also pay any costs incurred.

The U.S. Department of Education reported that NYU received a $10 million gift from the Executive Authority of Abu Dhabi, which could be the funding it agreed to provide to NYU. 

A total of $78 million in primary contracts and some gifts have been given to NYU by sources in the UAE since 2012.

Political Stability

When the university was seeking to establish NYUAD, they said in the report that the UAE “stands out as a partner: it has the political stability.” The Arab Spring — a series of revolts in countries such as Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain in response to oppressive regimes and low standards of living — occurred almost four months after NYUAD opened to students. While the UAE did not experience the same level of conflict, the revolts led to more stringent security policies in the region.

In light of the Arab Spring protests in Bahrain, the UAE outlawed attempts to organize protests through social media and mockery of the government on social media. Authorities also arrested activist Ahmed Mansour and academic Nasser bin Ghaith, who supported a 2011 petition requesting that citizens have the right to vote. The petition was signed by 132 UAE activists.

In an interview with WSN, Associate Journalism Professor Mohamad Bazzi noted the difference in political conditions in the UAE before and after the Arab Spring, while NYU was in the process of negotiating a campus in Abu Dhabi. 

“When [NYUAD] started, Abu Dhabi had this ambition to become a cultural and educational hub in the Middle East, in the region as a whole,” Bazzi said. “It was able to attract major cultural and educational institutions. The political reality shifted and the government has been much more aggressive in its foreign policy.”

Along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE has been involved in the conflict in Yemen. According to a United Nations report, Saudi and Emirati airstrikes have led to the most Yemeni civilian casualties, impacting residential areas, weddings, funerals, markets, jails and boats.

Guaranteed Monopoly

According to the report, NYU ensured that if they were to enter into an agreement with Abu Dhabi, they would be the only university of their kind in the region.

“NYU and the Authority intend for the NYUAD Campus to be the flagship American-style degree-granting academic institution of Abu Dhabi,” the report reads.

The two parties agreed to specific exclusivity provisions as well. For 20 years after the initial agreement, NYU would not add graduate programs in an area marked as the “UAE Market Region.” This does not apply to Law and Medicine programs for which there is a 12-year exclusivity period.

According to the report, the UAE Market Region includes: Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, India and Pakistan.

Academic Freedom

The report cited faculty concerns over the protections of academic freedoms in the UAE if the university were to establish a campus in Abu Dhabi. Among these concerns were faculty control over course content.

The university said in the report that they will have “absolute academic authority” at NYUAD. NYUAD Assistant History Professor Lauren Minsky recounted experiences of having books for her held up during the 2017 to 2018 academic year. She said that the director of NYUAD’s bookstore told her the books had been seized at customs and censored. The books for Minsky’s course were eventually released after administrative intervention.

In the report, NYU planned to implement the same policies on academic freedom from the NYU Faculty Handbook established on every other campus. 

“Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties, but outside occupations and research for pecuniary gain,” the handbook reads. “Except in the case of sporadic and wholly unrelated engagements should be based upon an understanding with the administration of the University.”

Social and Cultural Analysis Professor Andrew Ross was denied entry to the UAE in 2015. He believes that it was because of his research on labor conditions in the country, but a statement from university spokesperson John Beckman suggested that the university was not aware of Ross’ travel plans. Ross said he could not arrange his trip through university channels because of his research on a sensitive topic.

“[UAE authorities] were very much aware of what they were doing in denying entry to an NYU professor,” Ross said. “If you’re doing research that involves sensitive areas, and in the UAE, labor research is one of those, then your duty is to protect your subjects.”

Other Freedoms

Part of the report lists that one of the concerns brought about by faculty was about access to the campus for all.

“Concerns were raised about ensuring nondiscrimination with respect to religion, race, gender or sexual preference,” the report reads.

In fall of 2017, the CAS Journalism Department at NYU decided to cut ties with NYUAD after Bazzi and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Professor Arang Keshavarzian’s security clearances were denied when applying to teach at the global site.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Bazzi claimed that this was due to his religion. Bazzi is a Shiite Muslim, the main religion of Iran. Iran and the UAE often conflict in regional politics and Bazzi believes this is why he was denied entry into the country.

The UAE also criminalized any sexual activity besides that which occurs within heterosexual marriage. Homosexual activity can make one liable to corporal punishment, with “personal intercourse contrary to nature” punishable by 14 years in prison under Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Penal Code, and consensual sodomy punishable by 10 years in prison under Article 177 of the Dubai Penal Code.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 25 print edition. Email Victor Porcelli and Meghna Maharishi at [email protected]

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