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<nettime> Chron Higher Ed: Redden: Persona Non Grata
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<nettime> Chron Higher Ed: Redden: Persona Non Grata


Persona Non Grata

March 18, 2015

By Elizabeth Redden

After a New York University professor who has written critically
of migrant labor issues in the United Arab Emirates was blocked
from boarding a plane to Abu Dhabi, some are asking what the
implications are for N.Y.U.'s branch campus there.

Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis at the
New York City campus and president of N.Y.U.'s American
Association of University Professors chapter, was prohibited by
U.A.E. authorities from boarding an Abu Dhabi-bound plane at New
York's Kennedy International Airport on Saturday due to stated
"security reasons" (the media relations office at the U.A.E.
embassy declined to comment on the incident). Ross had been
planning to continue his research on migrant labor issues in the
Emirates over his spring vacation. He was not planning to stop by
the N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi campus while there.

"If someone with my kind of profile and especially my official
position within an A.A.U.P. chapter can be treated this way, what
is the value of the protections that are promised for less
high-profile faculty in Abu Dhabi?" asked Ross, who has been
critical of N.Y.U.'s campus there.

"My passage to and from the U.A.E. is supposed to be protected
and we've been told by our administration that they have
agreements with our Abu Dhabi partners about protecting academic
freedoms and now it turns out that they really don't have that
kind of influence," he said. "They don't really have any say,
ultimately, if the state decides to override those protections."

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Ross's case is the fact that
the prestige of the N.Y.U. campus -- a collaboration between the
university and U.A.E. government officials -- failed to grant
Ross the needed protection to do research in the country. The
university maintains that its Abu Dhabi campus "enjoys full
academic freedom as it exists at N.Y.U. New York."

"I had thought the government would have a little more deference
and respect for an N.Y.U. professor," said Sarah Leah Whitson,
who, as the executive director for Human Rights Watch's Middle
East and North Africa division, has also been refused entry into
the U.A.E. But she said, "If this is the kind of position that
the U.A.E. is going to take against critics of the government,
then I think N.Y.U. professors have a lot to worry about."

"It shouldn't be up to the U.A.E. to decide which views of N.Y.U.
professors are acceptable and which views are not," Whitson said.

A university spokesman, John Beckman, e-mailed a statement saying
that the university "supports the free movement of people and
ideas" and that in five years of operating a campus in Abu Dhabi,
"our faculty and students have experienced zero infringements on
their academic freedom, even when conducting classes about
sensitive topics -- labor, politics or what have you."

"But it is also the case that regardless of where N.Y.U. or any
other university operates, it is the government that controls
visa and immigration policy, and not the university," the
statement said.

Beckman declined to answer follow-up questions on Tuesday.

"While we do not have full information, it is concerning that a
New York University sociologist, Professor Andrew Ross, has been
prevented from entering the United Arab Emirates, particularly
since his scholarly work has included research on U.A.E. labor
practices," said Ann Marie Mauro, the chair of N.Y.U.'s Full-Time
Non-Tenure-Track/Contract Faculty Senators Council. She said via
e-mail that the council "would like to see this situation
resolved as quickly as possible, and has asked the university
administration to keep us updated regarding this issue. The
council has urged the administration to continue its work with
our U.A.E. partners to enable all N.Y.U. community members to
travel freely to and from our N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi campus."

N.Y.U.'s campus in Abu Dhabi has been a subject of controversy,
with concerns about the university's rapid global expansion being
one of the factors at play in a faculty vote of no-confidence in
President John Sexton's leadership in 2013. (Sexton is retiring
as president in 2016.) In addition to persistent questions about
the rhetoric versus the reality when it comes to issues of
academic freedom in the emirates, a New York Times investigation
last year into the harsh working conditions faced by the migrant
laborers who built N.Y.U.'s campus in Abu Dhabi fueled yet
further concerns (and as the Times reported Monday, one of the
journalists who co-authored that investigative piece, Sean
O'Driscoll, has since been expelled from the U.A.E.).

Other Western professors have also been barred from the United
Arab Emirates. Matt Duffy, who as a former journalism professor
at the Abu Dhabi-based (and American-accredited) Zayed University
attempted to delicately promote press freedoms, had his visa
revoked in 2012. In 2013, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Middle
East studies scholar affiliated with the London School of
Economics and Political Science, was briefly detained and turned
back upon arriving at the airport in Dubai with plans to give a
presentation at a conference jointly sponsored by LSE and the
American University of Sharjah. LSE called off the conference.
U.A.E. authorities released a statement saying that Ulrichsen had
been barred from the country in light of his views on the
political situation in Bahrain, the subject of his planned
conference talk.

"The threshold of tolerance for criticism [on the part of Persian
Gulf governments] is very low, and that's clashing with the
rising interest in the gulf from academics around the world, so
you're going to have points where the low tolerance clashes with
rising interest," said Ulrichsen, who is a visiting scholar at
the University of Washington at Seattle's Henry M. Jackson School
of International Studies.

"Any academic working on the gulf right now, we have to walk a
tightrope between balancing our academic integrity and
maintaining at least some form of access to the countries we

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