NYU AAUP Letter to Hamilton on Academic Freedom and UAE Visa Denials to Faculty

The UAE has denied work visas to Professor of Journalism  Mohamad Bazzi and Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Arang Keshavarzian. This has been grossly ignored by NYU.

  • Read the Middle East Studies Association’s letter to Andrew Hamilton here.
  • Read Mohamad Bazzi’s op-ed “NYU in Abu Dhabi: A Sectarian Bargain” in the New York Times here.
  • Read the article on academic freedom and NYU Abu Dhabi in the Washington Square News here and coverage on Insider Higher Ed here.

Please also see below for a letter from the NYU-AAUP to Andrew Hamilton and university leadership on NYU lack of response:

To: Andrew Hamilton, President, New York University
Cc: Al Bloom, Vice-chancellor, NYU Abu Dhabi; Katherine Fleming, Provost, NYU; William Berkley, Chair, NYU Board of Trustees; Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, Member, NYU Board of Trustees; Linda Mills, Vice Chancellor and Senior Vice Provost for Global Programs; Wen Ling, T-FSC Chair; Mary Killilea, C-FSC, Chair; Fabio Piano, Provost, NYUAD; Una Chaudhuri, Co-Chair, Faculty Advisory Committee on the Global Network; Eliot Borenstein, Co-Chair, Faculty Advisory Committee on the Global Network

Dear President Hamilton:
We, the officers of the NYU-AAUP chapter, are writing to express our strong concern about the revelation, as published in a New York Times op-ed article that our colleague Mohamad Bazzi, was denied permission to teach at NYUAD. We have now learned that Arang Keshavarzian has also been barred from teaching at NYUAD in the Spring 2018 term. The Middle Eastern Studies Association has issued a statement condemning the exclusion of both faculty. By any criteria, we view the treatment of our colleagues to be a gross violation of the AAUP’s basic principles of academic freedom, as officially observed by NYU and as adopted at the inauguration of NYUAD.

These two cases are only the latest to tarnish NYU’s name as a result of our partnership with the Abu Dhabi authorities. Given the evidence, from annual NGO reports, of a steady deterioration in the human rights climate in the UAE, we are certain they will not be last. Each time these incidents occur, everyone associated with the NYU community is tainted, both professionally and personally.

NYU has stated its commitments to protecting academic freedom, mobility and diversity (which includes all faculty/students regardless of ethnicity/ religion and nationality, among others); these commitments must be realized in the granting of equal access to all to NYU’s global sites.

We are heartened that NYU has joined the multi-university lawsuit in the United States against the most recent articulation of the travel ban. We applaud the fact that NYU has provided legal resources to affected students here in the US, and has taken a strong stand on behalf of students and visiting faculty to NYU-NY/DC from the targeted countries and “Muslim majority
countries” including Turkey and Pakistan who face constant harassment at US borders and are denied visas and/or denied entry even when they have visas.

However, while travel bans in the US and the UAE must be addressed with transparency and condemnation, in the case of the most recent UAE bans, we believe that it is not enough for NYU to issue another stock statement about the institution’s inability to influence sovereign decisions about who is permitted to enter the UAE. In the past, (in response to the cases of Professor Andrew Ross, and student Kristina Bogos, both barred entry to the UAE) these statements have not been helpful. At this point, they are widely seen as merely evasive. Among other things, they reinforce the general impression that the Abu Dhabi authorities, who are supposed to be our partners, do not care how much damage is inflicted on NYU’s name; and they demonstrate that our partners simply do not understand how corrosive the impact can be on a university culture when academic rights and freedoms are curtailed.

Here, we would like to point out the obvious: NYU does not have a decade-long economic and educational “partnership” worth tens of millions of dollars with the US government. We do have such a partnership with the UAE. Indeed, a senior UAE government official, Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, serves on the NYU Board of Trustees. (There are no US government officials on the Board.) Because of this structural condition, NYU potentially has more leverage to challenge and reverse visa denials (and other policies relevant to academic freedoms) by its “partners” in Abu Dhabi than it does in dealing with the US government.

In the cases of Professors Bazzi and Keshavarzian, there is strong suspicion that their respective bans relate to their national origin and religious identity as Shia Muslim. At the least, we urge you to clarify whether NYU is complicit with discrimination on these grounds by collecting such information on behalf of the UAE as part of a visa/ teaching vetting process. Moreover, because transparency is vital to academic culture, if not to matters of state, we urge you to collate and publicly report on each and every one of the circumstances under which the rights of our faculty and students are imperiled in overseas locations. In light of the harms borne by the barred individuals and to NYU itself, we urge you to overhaul the agreements made between the university and the Abu Dhabi authorities to ensure the full circulatory, academic, and research/publication freedom of our faculty and students (and that no reprisals will be taken for “sensitivities”). Lastly, we urge you to clarify to the NYU community how the university is taking fresh steps to ensure that there will be no more cases like those of Bazzi or Keshavarzian.

Failure to address these issues in a more proactive way leaves an ever darkening cloud over the institution and its global ambitions. It sends a chilling message to our colleagues – in New York and abroad — that there is little the university can do to protect them if their research or their family background or their teaching of “sensitive topics” or their publishing of their research findings is deemed unacceptable by the Emirati authorities

Marie Monaco, president, NYU-AAUP
Jim Uleman, vice-president, NYU-AAUP
Molly Nolan, secretary, NYU-AAUP
Anna McCarthy, treasurer, NYU-AAUP
Paula Chakravartty, member-at-large, NYU-AAUP
Rebecca Karl, member-at-large, NYU-AAUP
Vincent Renzi, member-at-large, NYU-AAUP
Andrew Ross, immediate past president, NYU-AAUP