impACT International expresses serious concern at suppression of academic freedoms at NYUAD

impACT International expresses serious concern at suppression of academic freedoms at NYUAD
Courtesy: NYU Abu Dhabi

impACT International expresses concern at a lack of protection against the suppression of physical and academic freedom for students and faculty at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD). The University must do more to allow for students, staffs and faculty free expression, without fear of institutional and state retribution. 


A press release from the American Association of University Professors, shared by NYU Faculty & Staff for Justice in Palestine, accuses NYUAD of overseeing an “academic year … marred by unprecedented repression”, actively preventing students and faculty from expressing solidarity with Palestine. The release details a number of complaints from students and staff against the University in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 


Titled: “NYU Leadership Fails to Protect Speech and Academic Freedom from Extreme Repression at NYU’s Abu Dhabi Campus”, the release details instances of “extreme sanctions” and “political repression” by the University on it’s students and staff. It includes “restricting actions such as organising pro-Palestine vigils and teach-ins, hanging banners, posting social media”, with students subjected to disciplinary action. Among staff, “efforts to hold a faculty vote around leadership’s handling of the students protesting in New York, as several NYU schools have done”, were “met with obstruction and threats” with the “Provost calling into question the legitimacy of elected faculty representatives”. 


Further, beyond internal repression from the University itself, NYU AD has been accused of failing to protect its students from state authorities. A number of University community members have been “detained, intimidated and deported” after state authorities surveilled their “personal associations, private email exchanges, and private social media posts”. According to the report, at the recent commencement celebrations at NYUAD, on 22nd May with NYU President Linda Mills present, a student publicly expressed their solidarity with Palestinians. Subsequently, they were detained for a week, and then deported from the UAE. The press release states the “most vulnerable members of the University community”, particularly, nationals of non-Western countries, were targeted with these repressive measures.


This repression has materialised into a number of actions that illustrate a campaign from within the University to repress community expressions regarding Israel’s continued invasion of the Gaza Strip, which has been described as a plausible genocide by the world’s highest court, the ICJ. According to the release, staff, faculty and students have been “prevented from wearing the keffiyeh in groups”, a traditional garment worn to illustrate solidarity with the Occupation of Palestine. Additionally, “academic and cultural events relating to Palestine have been subject to approval by the NYU AD Provost’s office and arbitrarily cancelled throughout the year”. In an interview with Middle East Eye, an anonymous faculty member at NYUAD stated


“Freedom of expression only exists inside the classroom, as soon as faculty steps out of the classroom those protections are drastically reduced”. 


NYU AD administrators also vetoed the “formation of a Palestinian cultural affinity group” despite a number of similar affinity groups on campus. This is despite the University publicly stating that they are “committed to strengthening a university-wide culture of inclusion, diversity, belonging, equity and accessibility within it’s staff, faculty and students”.


The repression, surveillance and deportation of University community members expressing solidarity through myriad means, cannot continue on a campus that claims to “uphold its institutional mission and core values, including academic freedom, on all of its global campuses”. Of course, the University is subject to UAE laws and policies expressing freedom of expression, however, these instances reflect a complete and utter failure to protect students, staff and faculty, and worse, illustrate the University is willing to act in a similar fashion, to repress academic freedoms. 


impACT International implores NYUAD to act immediately. The institution must do better; publicly defend its own community, protect them from harassment, surveillance, interrogation and detention. The University must do more to uphold academic freedom on its own campus. 


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