This open letter, written by a coalition of student groups at New York University, was shared with The Nation with permission to publish it.
In recent weeks, it has come to light that two NYU professors scheduled to teach at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus this academic year, Arang Keshavarzian and Mohamad Bazzi, were denied visas to the United Arab Emirates.
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.
Unfortunately, and despite NYU’s nondiscrimination policy, discrimination across the GNU constitutes a pattern: NYU students of Arab and Palestinian descent face tremendous and systematic restrictions on entry to Israel/Palestine, while NYU students with Palestinian ID cards are barred from entering Israel and therefore precluded from studying at NYU Tel Aviv. NYU students with Israeli citizenship cannot study at NYU Abu Dhabi, and at least one NYU student was denied access to the UAE because their perceived gender identity did not conform to the gender listed on their passport. All this comes as the university struggles with the Trump administration’s travel bans.
Rather than collectively throwing up our hands and denying that anything can be done, the university should view this reality as a call to action across all NYU campuses. If academic freedom and nondiscrimination are core values of NYU, the university should unreservedly defend these values. By not defending its academic workers, the university is enabling regimes of censorship in individual states to affect academic work in another, with chilling effects on the production of academic knowledge everywhere.
The Emirati state provided no reasons for its visa decisions. However, as Mohamad Bazzi has written, “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. It also calls into question the universalist rhetoric and celebrations of mobility that suffuse the “global university” branding, and forces us to consider for whom NYU is actually global.