NYU is #GlobalForWho?

The Union for Graduate Students at NYU (GSOC-UAW) has published a statement on the NYU-Abu Dhabi Travel Bans. You can read it here.

Statement also copied below:

GSOC Statement on Abu Dhabi Travel Bans

In recent weeks, it has come to light that two NYU professors who were scheduled to teach at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus this academic year, Arang Keshavarzian and Mohamad Bazzi, have been denied visas to the United Arab Emirates.

This news comes at a time when both academic freedom and the freedom of movement have come under increasing attack across the NYU network. Unfortunately, the university has not lived up to its responsibility to protect either.

This is not the first time that members of the NYU community have been prevented from moving across the “global network university” (GNU). NYU Professor Andrew Ross was banned from visiting the UAE in 2015, and NYU students have been denied entry to both Abu Dhabi and Israel/Palestine, where NYU has a Tel Aviv campus. Repercussions for Emirati scholars have been far harsher.

These visa denials are clear violations of NYU’s non-discrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination or adverse treatment of any student or faculty based on national origin, ethnicity, or citizenship status. Discrimination across the GNU constitutes a pattern: NYU students of Arab and Palestinian descent face tremendous and systematic restrictions on their entry in Israel/Palestine, while NYU students with Palestinian ID cards are barred from entering Israel and therefore precluded from studying at NYU Tel Aviv. Moreover, NYU students with Israeli citizenship cannot study at NYU Abu Dhabi, and at least one NYU student was denied access to the U.A.E. because their perceived gender identity did not conform to the gender listed on their passport. These barriers to movement have occurred in parallel with the disruptions of movement caused by the Trump administration’s travel bans.

The Emirati state provided no reasons for its recent visa decisions in relation to Professors Bazzi and Keshavarzian. However, in a New York Times op-ed, Mohamad Bazzi writes that, “The U.A.E.’s security clearance forms require applicants to list religion and sect, and N.Y.U.’s own written instructions specify that its employees cannot leave those fields blank.” Whether or not religion was a factor in the visa decisions, the university’s request for such information represents an act of complicity with the most discriminatory practices of the Emirati state.

Just as troubling is the university’s silence. NYU has released no details on the incidents, nor has it publically come to the defense of its faculty members and students. NYU President Andrew Hamilton’s response to the Department of Middle East and Islamic Studies on this matter is unsatisfactory. The issue is not whether NYU or any university “can guarantee to their scholars that they can cross any border at any given time to teach or conduct research,” but whether NYU adequately defends its commitment to academic freedom and non-discrimination in its dealings with the GNU’s host governments, and advocates for its faculty and students in such situations. Failure do so is a violation of NYU’s core principles as an institution.

Moreover, dismissing the cases of Professor Bazzi, Professor Keshavarzian, and numerous NYU students as a set of individual cases rather than “broad policies” of discrimination overlooks both the weight of evidence of discrimination and the opacity of the decision-making processes in these states’ security apparatuses. The U.A.E. is not likely to publicly announce a “broad policy” of discrimination against individuals it categorizes as Shi’i, but patterns are nonetheless discernable. The fact that Abu Dhabi Emirate has paid for the entire NYUAD project, in addition to its donations of at least $50 million to NYU as a whole, raises the thorny question of whether the Emirate has successfully bought this silence.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA), and NYU Sanctuary have all issued statements calling on NYU to publicly and forcefully defend its academic workers. As NYU Sanctuary has argued, “Restrictions on the freedom of movement are a powerful coercive mechanism, one that discourages independent speech and critical scholarship.”

Protecting the right of scholars to research sensitive subjects is particularly crucial given the troubling history of labor at NYUAD. As has been widely reported, NYU’s system of labor monitoring totally failed to detect endemic labor abuses during the construction of the Abu Dhabi campus. As labor and human rights groups have been repeatedly denied access to the Emirate, and Professor Ross was presumably banned for his work on labor, the university has benefitted from a state-enforced blackout that has had a devastating impact on its own workers. Independent scrutiny from the beginning of the project, meanwhile, may even have helped alleviate some of the most glaring abuses.

GSOC calls on NYU to publicly defend faculty and students who are denied entry to the UAE, and to combat restrictions of movement of NYU faculty and students that violate norms of academic freedom and non-discrimination to the UAE, Israel, and the United States as well as other states with all the means at its disposal. GSOC also asks, alongside the NYU Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (MEIS), for NYU faculty to “consider refraining from teaching or participating in academic events at NYU Abu Dhabi until such time as all NYU faculty and students are free to do so.”