Response to Recent NYU Abu Dhabi Controversy

OCA's Editor-in-Chief Allison Chesky clarifies the difference between academic freedom and NYU's policies of diversity and inclusion.

Recent letters and op-eds from members of the NYU New York community over the past seven weeks are uninformed, misguided, and threaten the education of over 1050 students enrolled at NYU Abu Dhabi, an institution with full academic freedom, as defined by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

The recent letter from a majority of NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, the letter by the NYU-AAUP, the editorial by Washington Square News, and the op-ed by Associate Journalism Professor Mohamad Bazzi all sidestep the fact that academic freedom and NYU policies of diversity and inclusion are separate subjects. NYU promised to maintain academic freedom at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. However, it is foolish and futile to conclude that this includes a commitment to publicly denounce the national immigration and visa policies of the United Arab of Emirates or China when they are in conflict with NYU ideals. Moreover, these groups ignore workarounds that have been implemented on more than one occasion by NYU to provide effective circulatory freedom.

NYU has been successful in its mission to operate a university with full academic freedom in the UAE, a country run by an authoritarian regime. NYU Professor and immediate past president of NYU-AAUP Andrew Ross defines academic freedom as consisting of four concepts: speech within the classroom, writing published in academic journals, speech regarding the institution’s operation, and the freedom to share work outside of the academic community. Nowhere in this definition, which was explained by Ross to On Century Avenue in an interview conducted on Oct. 30, 2015, does academic freedom include the freedom of professors to travel unrestricted across national boundaries with no regard for national visa policies.

Middle Eastern Studies Associate Professor Arang Keshavarzian was denied a security clearance to travel to the UAE. Keshavarzian noted that “in the past year I was regularly told by the NYUAD administration and faculty that there are few limits on mobility at NYUAD.” 1.2% of professors’ applications for visas were denied from fall of 2009 to spring of 2016. 3.3% of other applications for visas by other NYU staff were rejected during this same period. These extremely low percentages do in fact indicate “few limits on mobility,” as Keshavarzian was told.

OCA is aware that over the past year, there has been one case where an NYU Shanghai student was denied a visa to study away in NYU New York. This is most likely not the only case and it is reasonable to assume that this will not be the last case. Given that fewer students have applied for visas to New York from NYU Shanghai, the percentage would work out to be similar to the statistics above. However, this does not lead NYU Shanghai students to draw the conclusion that NYU New York “is developing a reputation that there are very real limits on who can teach and study at this university and what can be potentially said on this campus,” Keshavarzian commented with reference to NYU Abu Dhabi in a New York Times article.

Professor Mohamad Bazzi, the other NYU professor denied a security clearance to travel to the UAE on behalf of NYU, was effectively able to teach a month-long course at NYU Abu Dhabi, despite the UAE’s restrictions. Yet, Bazzi wrote in his New York Times op-ed, “university officials recently told me that they’re still working to reverse my security clearance denial. But based on my past experience with the Abu Dhabi project, I have little hope.” If NYU continues working privately with UAE officials, it is much more likely that Bazzi will see an affirmative resolution of his case to teach a semester-long course, rather than Bazzi publicly denouncing both NYU and the UAE government.

When a similar situation occurred at NYU Shanghai, our administration chose not to publicly denounce China’s visa policies. Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah was hired specifically with the mandate to travel between NYU’s Portal campuses, but his visa application to China was never responded to. Appiah was previously denied a visa to China, which he attributed to his support as President of the PEN American Center for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. “We could’ve talked to reporters in Shanghai about it, and PR reporters and that would’ve guaranteed that Anthony Appiah never ever comes to NYU Shanghai,” explained Lucia Pierce, NYU Shanghai’s head of External and Academic Affairs at the time of the visa denial, in 2015 to On Century Avenue.

The NYU community in New York must recognize that NYU Abu Dhabi, NYU Shanghai, and NYU New York have all worked together to find reasonable solutions to these visa policies. When Professor Appiah was denied entrance to China, a Skype session was planned. As previously mentioned, Professor Bazzi was able to teach a J-term class in NYU Abu Dhabi.

Furthermore, the cases of Andrew Ross and Kristina Bogos should be removed from the conversation with regard to NYU’s academic freedom in Abu Dhabi. Ross’s denial of entry to the UAE in March 2015 is widely cited as an instance of NYU Abu Dhabi’s lack of academic freedom. However, Ross was not traveling to Abu Dhabi on behalf of NYU, but in a separate role as an activist to investigate the labor conditions of migrant workers. Professor Ross cannot possibly expect that when not traveling in his role as an NYU professor that NYU has any obligation or any power to assist him overcome the UAE’s visa policies.

Bogos’s situation arose while she was pursuing a graduate degree at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. “The failure of Georgetown and NYU to call out the suppression of critical speech suggests the complicity that gulf money buys. The transactional relationships that underpin these American universities’ campuses in U.A.E. and Qatar subvert the very academic freedom they’re supposed to promote,” Bogos argues. Her conclusion has no logic behind it, besides an inference based on a member of NYU’s Advisory Board’s former position in a UAE cyber security company, that Bogos has no evidence was involved in her travel to the UAE.

NYU President Andrew Hamilton has responded to requests for clarification on the steps NYU is taking. “When the university sees broad policies being implemented that are antithetical to our philosophy on global mobility, we may take a public stance,” Hamilton wrote in a letter in response to the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. “When a case involves an individual who is prevented from entering a country, we would typically seek to resolve the issue through appeals to appropriate parties in that country, as we did here.”

The majority of NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, NYU-AAUP, Washington Square News, Bazzi, Bogos, Keshavarzian, and Ross all have one thing in common. They seek only easy, fast solutions to global problems that face every nation and every university. This is not to argue that members of the NYU community should not speak out and fight for the abilities of individuals to educate and be educated at all of NYU’s campuses. That is a necessary conversation. Yet, these groups and individuals are causing the greatest harm.

Overlooking facts and motives to promote individual community members’ teaching and learning preferences is in direct contrast with NYU’s overall mission to function as a global network university with the mission of creating world-class universities that create holistic communities of thousands of students and professors from a variety of national backgrounds – that may one day have purview over these national visa and immigration policies.

This article was written by Allison Chesky. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Maya Williams

One thought on “Response to Recent NYU Abu Dhabi Controversy

  1. Thank you for bringing a non-NYUAD voice of dissent and logic back into this narrative of NYU Portal Campus academic freedoms.

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