NYU Abu Dhabi, and Our Global Future

To: The NYU Community
Fr: John Sexton
Re: NYU Abu Dhabi, and Our Global Future
Date: Fall 2007

I am pleased to tell you about an extraordinarily exciting development for NYU: the University has completed an agreement with representatives of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi to create NYU Abu Dhabi, the first comprehensive liberal arts campus to be operated abroad by a major U.S. research university. This campus, when completed, is expected to serve upwards of 2,000 students, principally from the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Europe. Site selection and campus planning will begin soon, and we expect to start operations at the campus in 2010. This is a wonderful project. We have excellent partners in the leadership of Abu Dhabi, and it is an important step in the evolution of NYU into what I have taken to calling a global network university.

The commitment by both parties is to build a U.S.-style, research university-focused, educational experience. NYU Abu Dhabi will be a residential research university overseen by New York-based faculty and senior administrators and built with academic quality and practices conforming to the same standards as those at NYUs Washington Square campus, including adherence our standards of academic freedom. A state-of-the-art campus including classrooms, library and information technology facilities, laboratories, academic buildings, faculty housing, dormitories, and athletic and performance facilities will be developed by the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi to designs and standards agreed upon by NYU. The costs of planning, designing, and building the campus and all expenses related to the operation of NYU Abu Dhabi will be assumed by the government of Abu Dhabi.

While the programs will follow a liberal arts model, this is not to say that we will feel compelled to replicate every detail of the current program at Washington Square. Rather, working with our faculty, we have the opportunity to create an innovative educational experience true to our ideals and standards. And Abu Dhabi officials are committed to working with us on building research opportunities and graduate programs at NYU Abu Dhabi.

NYU Abu Dhabi will also present new research and teaching opportunities for our faculty, and it will keep us in the forefront of intellectual, cultural, and educational institutions, many of which have been drawn to this region of the world.

To understand why we have undertaken this project, one needs to look to the examples of our history and the imperatives of higher educations future.

When NYU was founded in the early 19th century, it was a break with tradition. Other colleges and universities sought to teach the elites, those who always had access to higher education. NYU consciously sought to teach the emerging middle class and merchant class, students who were propelled to our doors by a desire to learn and succeed, who saw education as an opportunity, not a birth-right.

From those very first years, the outlook has always focused on the future. We think the best NYU lies ahead, not in some previous Golden Age. This outlook has freed us to discern possibilities others cannot see and make successes of them such as accepting in 1993 the gift of the Villa La Pietra in Florence, Italy, which had been turned down by one of the worlds oldest universities -- and to make successes as well of seeming setbacks, such as consolidating NYU in the area of Greenwich Village after selling our Heights Campus in the Bronx to the CUNY system in the 1970s.

Now as we enter the first years of the 21st century, the contours of higher educations future are becoming clearer.

For one thing, as our worlds cultures are brought together ever faster and more forcefully, a global experience will be an indispensable part of a students full college experience. At NYU, our Study Abroad program has grown tremendously: a few short years ago, seven percent of our undergraduates studied abroad; today, approximately one-third of our students study abroad, many in new sites on new continents, including Asia and Africa. Indeed, a greater number of our students study abroad than any other U.S university. We are adding two more sites Tel Aviv and Buenos Aires and in time, we hope that at least half of our students will study abroad at some point in their undergraduate career.

But to be successful in an interconnected world, institutions of higher learning will have to do more than just send their students abroad. At NYU, we have many arrangements, both formal and informal, between our schools and departments and universities around the world. Our Global Distinguished Professors program brings some of the greatest international scholars to Washington Square from abroad, and our Global Law School program is now being emulated in law schools across the country. We have joint degree programs with other universities in business and law, and we are also educating NYU students who will spend most of their time on campuses elsewhere. For example, the School of Law has created a dual LL.M. program with the National University of Singapore, the Tisch School of the Arts has opened a graduate film campus in Singapore, and we are exploring a major partnership with the American University of Paris and the development of an educational facility on the Ile Seguin.

These examples illustrate why our partnership with Abu Dhabi is such a good fit. We and our counterparts in Abu Dhabi saw something in one another. We found that we shared important perspectives: a mindfulness of history, but a focus on the future; a belief that the evolving global dynamic will bring about the emergence of a set of world centers of intellectual, cultural, and educational strength great magnets that will draw in people of talent and talent-based businesses; and a recognition that a requisite ingredient to the success of any idea capital will be the presence of an outstanding research university. And a university that is based in New York that most globally far-reaching of cities and tied into a network of research and teaching sites in idea capitals around the world will be especially well positioned for the future.

Moreover, this partnership presented a rare opportunity to immerse ourselves in a crucial part of the world, the Middle East, an entrepot of world politics and culture, and to renew the type of bold experiment that was our founding. As many of you may know from recent press coverage, there is an enormous commitment by Abu Dhabi to make itself a cultural and intellectual center in the region, amply demonstrated by the important world institutions that are establishing themselves there. As New Yorkers, we understand, admire, and feel a kinship for those who embrace large, audacious, transformative plans. As members of a university that accomplished much the same thing, we are naturally drawn to such aspirations, and that should incline us to believe that the availability of a first-rate liberal arts education provided by a major research university should be a part of that cultural effort.

This agreement we are signing today is much closer to the beginning of the process than the end. We now have the thrilling and and daunting task of creating a new campus. It is a challenge that will involve everyone at NYU -- administrators, students, but most importantly, faculty. I am pleased that Mariet Westermann, the Director since 2002 of our renowned Institute of Fine Arts, has agreed to lead this effort from our Washington Square campus as Vice Chancellor. She and her outstanding team of colleagues -- Associate Vice Chancellor Hilary Ballon, who will direct the development of curriculum and campus planning together with a remarkable cabinet of NYU faculty leaders; Senior Vice President and Secretary Cheryl Mills, who will implement legal, compliance, and public safety standards; and Senior Vice President Jeannemarie Smith, who will be responsible for developing the financial and administrative structures for NYU Abu Dhabi -- are poised to shoulder an effort that promises to be transformative for NYU. I also want to thank those who were most deeply involved in bringing us to this point: Cheryl Mills, Jeannemarie Smith, Yaw Nyarko, and Robert Berne from NYU; Thomas Jackson, the president emeritus of the University of Rochester, whose guidance was indispensable; our valued advisor, Martin Edelman; and, most especially, our partners in Abu Dhabi.

I believe this new branch campus in Abu Dhabi will not only bring our distinctive approach to education and research to this region, it will be an education for us, changing us in new and not entirely foreseeable ways, and NYU will be the better for it. And if a global network university is to be a meaningful idea, then we must embrace the concept of the spread of high-quality liberal arts education beyond our historic home as a great opportunity. NYU should be at the forefront of that opportunity, and recognize that the future of NYUs liberal arts tradition will not and should not be confined to Washington Square.

A great university, such as ours, constantly asks itself to consider its nature. One thing we do know about ourselves is that we are willing to embrace the complex and diverse possibilities produced by a changing world. This will be a challenge, but I am confident that this will be a success and a model for future, similar undertakings, and that it will come to be viewed as one of the defining moments in the history of the University.