Updated: Apr 26, 2019
In a letter addressed to President Andrew Hamilton and members of the NYU Abu Dhabi administration, 10 NYU professors called for greater academic protection of students and faculty traveling to the NYU Abu Dhabi campus.
The letter names Middle Eastern Studies Associate Professor Arang Keshavarzian as a victim of religious discrimination by the United Arab Emirates government. Keshavarzian has since confirmed the letter’s claim and has spoken out publicly about his denial of entry into the UAE.
The claim comes one week after NYU Associate Journalism professor Mohammad Bazzi penned his own New York Times op-ed describing his experience with religious discrimination at the hands of the Emirati government.
In early 2017 Keshavarzian made plans to teach a course in Abu Dhabi for the Spring 2018 semester. Keshavarzian told NYU that he had applied for security clearance in April and was told by NYU that the process should take six weeks. In August Keshavarzian was told that he had been denied his security clearance and that NYU had appealed the decision on his behalf.
The rejection and subsequent appeal occurred without Keshavarzian’s knowledge. Keshavarzian told WSN that no one from the NYU administration warned him or suggested that his security clearance could be denied.
“In fact, in the past year I was regularly told by the NYUAD administration and faculty that there are few limits on mobility at NYUAD,” Keshavarzian said.
While the UAE government does not release the reasons for security clearance denials, Keshavarzian said he believed it was either because of his Iranian heritage, religious affiliation, or research and teaching content.
NYUAD Executive Director of Public Affairs Kate Chandler responded to claims of religious and academic restrictions at NYUAD by highlighting the community’s diverse demographics. “Like the UAE, the NYU Abu Dhabi community is extraordinarily diverse: it includes faculty, students and staff from well over 100 countries, representing a broad collection of faiths—including those identifying as Sh’ia, many of whom joined as recently as this semester,” Chandler said.
In their letter, 10 members of the NYU chapter of the American Association of University Professors addressed the NYU administration in New York and Abu Dhabi and condemned what they called “a gross violation of the AAUP’s basic principles of academic freedom.” Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, one of the letter’s recipients, currently sits on NYU’s Board of Trustees and is a member of the Executive Council for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Al-Mubarak was also instrumental in beginning the initial partnership between NYU and the Abu Dhabi government, which included a reported $50 million donation from the Abu Dhabi government.
When asked to comment on the letter, Chandler said NYUAD Public Affairs had received the letter and intend to respond to it.
Keshavarzian’s and Bazzi’s denial of entry into the UAE sparked other groups to voice their displeasure with the UAE government. On Oct. 6, the Middle East Studies Association wrote a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Minister of Interior