This article was originally published by the NYU Local and is reposted here with permission.
Last month, NYU Abu Dhabi announced in a press release that its lavish, state-of-the-art, 450,000 m2 campus on Saadiyat Island had finished construction. Yet as the New York Times reported yesterday, the human costs were immense, and possibly unprecedented for an academic institution. The Times’s Ariel Kaminer investigated the labor conditions at NYU Abu Dhabi and found physical abuse, illegal recruitment fees, withheld passports, squalid living conditions and debilitating pay droughts, with minimal oversight from the university.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about labor abuses at NYU-AD. The Guardian’s report on migrant workers is a stunning indictment of the system of labor in Abu Dhabi, where satellite versions of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums are currently under construction on Saadiyat Island. Yet this newest article, in focusing on NYU’s explicit role in labor exploitation, takes the university to task.
To build the university where Bill Clinton will speak this week, laborers are paid less than what was contracted, are refused their own passports and bank cards, and sleep a dozen to a room. When attempting a strike, workers were arrested and beaten by the police. This is par for the course in Abu Dhabi—strikes are illegal and brutally suppressed—but it is a stunning contrast with NYU-AD’s commitment to academic freedom and university core values.
When the worker’s complaints were relayed to them, university officials stated that they were unable to verify the complaints either way, as the laborers are not employed by NYU—rather by contractors, in turn working for the UAE government. Margaret Bavuso, the executive director of campus operations for NYU Abu Dhabi, said that the university doesn’t monitor the wages paid by the construction companies at all.
The cornerstone of John Sexton’s Global Network University, NYU Abu Dhabi’s “walled garden” is luxurious for students and faculty. The campus was financed by the Abu Dhabi royal family, and all expenses are paid. The university compensates tuition, room, board, food, and even travel. Yet despite star professors and a Rhodes Scholar, the grim realities of the institution’s genesis have crept over the garden gate.