No gays, no Jews, no worries: NYU in Abu Dhabi

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John Sexton

In a revealing 2008 New York magazine piece about NYU’s sellout to Abu Dhabi, Zvika Krieger quoted dopey NYU president John Sexton‘s blithe admission that students and faculty at NYU-Abu Dhabi would be subject to “the normal laws of that society” – for example, the UAE’s criminization of homosexuality and its ban on Israelis. As one NYU math professor, Sylvain Cappell, noted, “Israelis are gigantic figures in academic life, and if we held conferences in certain disciplines, it would be an embarrassment not to be able to have Israeli participation.” Krieger wondered “how the Jewish members of NYU’s board of trustees engaged the mental gymnastics necessary to process the U.A.E.’s disconcerting tolerance of anti-Semitism.”

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NYU-Abu Dhabi

Sexton, however, refused to see any problems here: “I would say to any student here that wants to go to the Abu Dhabi campus, ‘Go.’ Gay students, Israeli students, I refuse to think in those categories.” Never mind that the police and courts and prison authorities in the UAE do think in those categories. Mubarak Al Shamesi, Abu Dhabi’s education honcho, told Krieger that “NYU was aware of our local culture and rules and guidelines, and our policies on Israelis or homosexuality were clearly not a concern for them.”

This, as Krieger underscored, from a university that had been named the most gay-friendly in the United States.

Recently, Jim Sleeper, who teaches poli sci at Yale, wrote an article in which he expanded on Shaun Tan’s and Zvika Krieger’s criticism of Sexton. Noting that the campus of NYU-Abu Dhabi “is the product of a kleptocracy,” Sleeper pointed out that the compromises entered into by Sexton & co. “involve not just academic life but the virtual indentured servitude of thousands of laborers from Southeast Asia who have been imported to construct the campus.”

Nasser bin Ghaith, one of the five political activists pardoned by the United Arab Emirates, speaks to Reuters at his home in Dubai November 30, 2011. REUTERS/Nikhil Monteiro
Nasser bin Ghaith

Although NYU-Abu Dhabi is still a relatively new institution, it’s already been the locus of several major compromises. In 2011, Nasser bin Ghaith, who taught at the Sorbonne’s Abu Dhabi branch, was arrested and tried “for supporting democratic elections.” Human Rights Watch urged NYU and other UAE-based Western colleges to come to Bin Ghaith’s defense; but, as Jackson Diehl reported in the Washington Post,

NYU joined with the Sorbonne in throwing Bin Ghaith overboard. A Sorbonne statement said the university had “no authorized means to express an opinion” because the charges against the professor were “external to his academic activities.” NYU also declined to make a statement; a spokesman said it fell outside NYU’s “core mission.”

In 2012, Ursula Lindsey, a reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, paid a visit to the NYU-Abu Dhabi campus. Among her observations: faculty members “use caution in broaching topics such as AIDS and prostitution; the status of migrant laborers; Israel and the Holocaust; and domestic politics and corruption. Any critical discussion of the Emirates’ ruling families is an obvious no-go zone.” In 2014, Matt J. Duffy, who had taught in the UAE, called NYU-Abu Dhabi’s “pledge of ‘academic freedom’ …essentially worthless because powerful figures [in the Emirates] can make arbitrary employment decisions with absolutely no recourse.”

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Andrew Ross

Sleeper has cited the case of NYU American Studies professor Andrew Ross, who publicly “called attention to the labor abuses” in the UAE and who consequently was banned from Abu Dhabi in March of this year. That’s not all: “In the United States, Ross was followed by a private investigator; and a reporter who had worked with the New York Times on a story about the Abu Dhabi campus said that a representative of the United Arab Emirates had offered him payments to write more positively about the government.” Worst of all, “President Sexton’s handling of reports about those abuses and of NYU’s complicity in them are troubling.” Quelle surprise!

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Sorbonne-Abu Dhabi

No, NYU isn’t the only university to engage in this kind of whoring. But at least some other whores are honest about what they’re doing. “Sexton,” wrote Krieger,

is unwilling to concede that he is in thrall to petrodollars. But the Sorbonne, which opened a campus in Abu Dhabi in 2006, is quite open about having sold itself to the highest bidder. “It is a pity, but I must say that we are only in Abu Dhabi because Abu Dhabi proposed to pay for all of our expenses,” says Daniel Balland, director-general of the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi. “If we got the same offer from Doha or Cairo, we probably would have said yes, too.”

Yale’s road to Singapore

Yale
Yale New Haven

A couple of days ago we began exploring the rampant stoogery at American and British universities that have eagerly compromised their professed values in exchange for piles of cash from various unsavory governments around the world. Yesterday we noted that administrators at Yale University censored a book about the Danish cartoons, apparently to placate their paymasters in the Muslim world.

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Yale Singapore

Jim Sleeper, in an article published earlier this year, wrote about Yale’s branch campus in Singapore, known as Yale-NUS. Noting that Human Rights Watch calls Singapore “a textbook example of a repressive state,” Sleeper pointed out that Yale’s administration and corporation had told the Yale faculty about the joint venture with Singapore “only when that undertaking had already been signed and sealed.” At the time of Sleeper’s piece, “the full terms of the contract [had] never been shared with the faculty.”

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Richard Levin

Shaun Tan, in a 2012 article, wrote that the establishment of Yale-NUS appeared to have resulted in “increasing authoritarianism on the part of the Yale administration,” with professors saying they were didn’t dare express their concerns about Yale-NUS to Yale’s then president, Richard Levin, for fear of retaliation. Levin’s administration, reported Tan, had “displayed an eerie moral relativism on Singapore.”

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Charles Bailyn

Tan also quoted a staggeringly nonchalant remark made by Charles Bailyn, who had been named dean of Yale-NUS, about Singapore’s restrictions on speech and assembly: “They take demonstrations in a kind of different way. What we think of as freedom, they think of as an affront to public order, and I think the two societies differ in that respect.” As Sleeper put it, Bailyn appeared to be “trying to relativize if not justify Singapore’s prohibitions of public assembly.” The American Association of University Professors sent Yale an open letter asking sixteen questions about Yale-NUS, but Yale didn’t deign to reply.

Levin, for his part, refused to answer queries about “the Singapore government’s close surveillance of political blogs.” When some members of the Yale faculty passed a resolution deploring Singapore’s “lack of respect for civil and political rights,” Levin objected, calling the resolution “unseemly” and accusing the signatories of “moral superiority.” Just a few months later, as Jackson Diehl reported in the Washington Post, Yale-NUS’s governing board “adopted a policy of preventing students from creating campus branches of Singaporean political parties, engaging in partisan political campaigning, or ‘promoting religious strife.’ It also said students will be bound by Singapore’s laws, which restrict speech and ban sodomy.”

Diehl quoted from a Yale Daily News article by Seyla Benhabib and Christopher Miller, who summed up the problem succinctly: “an institution bearing Yale’s name – headed by professors and staff taken from Yale-New Haven – is in the business of restricting the rights of students.”