We’ve been looking at the sordid story of NYU president John Sexton‘s acceptance of Abu Dhabi dough in exchange for his university’s ethical reputation. In both Shaun Tan’s and Zvika Krieger’s retellings, Sexton comes off as an utter fool – and, needless to say, a useful stooge of the first water. Here’s Krieger on Sexton’s first rendezvous with his desert prince, otherwise known as Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan:
The way Sexton describes his Abu Dhabi courtship is oddly rapturous. Meeting with the crown prince in his opulent majlis social hall was, Sexton says, “electric.” He believes he connected to the prince metaphysically: “The crown prince told me that he felt it in my handshake, in my eyes, in my aura at that first meeting.” And perhaps most significant to Sexton, when they prepared to part ways, the prince said, “What, no hug?” (Sexton is famous for hugging most everyone in sight.) “I knew right then and there,” Sexton remembers fondly, “that we had found our partner.”
Imagine: this idiot is the head of a leading American university. Tan picks up the story:
Having decided on his plan, Sexton pushed it through with autocratic fervor. “It was negotiated secretly and announced to the rest of us with only a veneer of serious faculty consultation, but we knew it was a fait accompli,” said a senior NYU professor who declined to be named because of “a sense that people who get on Sexton’s wrong side get punished.” Indeed, reservations about the project seemed to batter uselessly against Sexton’s bewildering naïveté. “The Crown Prince chose us,” Sexton said, “and he wants us to be the best.”
At the same time, Sexton warned students and faculty at the new campus that they couldn’t criticize Abu Dhabi’s leaders and policies without repercussions. However, he denied that such restrictions would betray the spirit of a liberal arts college. “I have no trouble distinguishing between rights of academic freedom and rights of political expression,” he said.
Before you continue reading, chew over that one for a few seconds.
Krieger attended an NYU faculty meeting at which news of the Abu Dhabi deal caused “outrage.” “To many faculty,” he wrote, “the Abu Dhabi project embodies the worst of John Sexton’s indulgences and the short-sightedness of his glory-seeking ambitions.” Mary Nolan, a longtime NYU history professor, described NYU-Abu Dhabi as “a quintessentially Sexton operation. He thinks he has some sort of a missionary calling, but he operates in a very autocratic manner. Deans are kept on a very short leash, and faculty governance has been absolutely gutted.”
Some NYU professors wondered if Sexton’s own course on “Supreme Court and Religion,” or other courses on “Theories of Gender and Sexuality” and “The Constitution in the Age of Terror,” would “be welcome in a country that lacks an independent media and judiciary or a separation of church and state.” (Krieger noted that two years earlier, “a foreign lecturer at a university [in the Emirates] was dismissed for showing and discussing controversial Danish cartoons that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.”)
As we’ll see, those professors’ concerns were more than justified.