Following the denial of visas to two tenured members of NYU's faculty who were scheduled to teach at NYU Abu Dhabi in 2017-18, members of the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies wrote President Andrew Hamilton a letter expressing their concerns. President Hamilton's reply and the letter from MEIS faculty members are below.
For context and background information, please see this FAQ on global mobility.
Dear MEIS Faculty Colleagues,
Thank you for transmitting your expression of concern. I believe there are essential areas on which we agree.
The denial of visas to two tenured members of our faculty in good standing, scholars whom we selected to teach at one of our campuses, professors whom I cannot see as posing a security threat based on their writing and research, is very troubling to me as well as to you.
I am also conscious of the personal dimension: I am sorry for what I can only imagine must be the disruption in their personal and professional lives caused by the timing of the notification of the visa denials, and having to change their plans for the academic year at the last minute.
I have been a faculty member at five universities in two countries. I know of no universities that can guarantee to their scholars that they can cross any border at any given time to teach or conduct research, because the matter is out of the institutions’ hands. In this case, NYU selected, deliberately and in good faith, these two scholars to teach. It was done, as one would expect, without regard to their religion, their utterances, their writings, and their scholarship (beyond the fact that they were chosen to teach courses in their designated fields). That, I would posit, is a much better gauge of the University's intent and commitment to academic freedom than an entirely external decision about visas. And, let there be no doubt, that while we acknowledge there are complexities, we remain deeply committed to doing everything possible to ensure that members of our community are able to cross borders in order to further their scholarship.
With regard to determining how public we make our concerns in a situation like this: Speaking generally, when the University sees broad policies being implemented that are antithetical to our philosophy on global mobility, we may take a public stance. When a case involves an individual who is prevented from entering a country, we would typically seek to resolve the issue through appeals to appropriate parties in that country, as we did here.
I also wanted to clarify the matter of the discussions with the two faculty members about teaching at another site within the global network. This possibility was raised not as an off-hand substitute for trying to resolve underlying visa issues, nor as a signal that we took the visa issue as anything other than important and troubling. Rather, it was offered in good faith on the chance it might be of interest, and the decision whether to avail themselves of this alternative was left wholly to the faculty members.
Lastly, I came to NYU in significant measure because of its international presence and its bold effort to create a global network. Coming from the outside, I consider it one of the most distinctive, interesting, and far-sighted undertakings in higher education. The matter involving Professors Bazzi and Keshavarzian is troubling, to be sure; however, the global experiment in higher education was always certain to have challenges, and I do not think what your resolution has called for is the correct solution. It is premature to now urge scholars here in New York to consider refraining from participation in the academic activities of NYUAD. And, most importantly, such an action would miss its mark: It would punish NYUAD's students and faculty colleagues, who had no hand in the visa decisions.
I know these are difficult and challenging issues, however I believe it is vital that we, as a community, remain committed to NYU’s decades-long ethos of global engagement.
We, the faculty of the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at NYU, wish to express our grave concern about the decision of the UAE government to deny visas to our MEIS colleague Professor Arang Keshavarzian as well as to Professor Mohamad Bazzi of the Journalism Department, both of whom had been invited to teach at NYU Abu Dhabi during the current academic year. This decision makes it impossible for either of them to teach at NYU Abu Dhabi as they had planned to do.
While a number of NYU faculty – as well as our graduate student Alya El Hosseiny, who had been awarded a Humanities Research Fellowship for dissertation work by the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute – have been denied entry to the UAE in recent years, this is, we believe, the first time that tenured members of the NYU faculty whom NYU Abu Dhabi had invited to come teach there have been prevented from doing so. As such it sets a dangerous precedent that our university must not accept in silence. It also raises troubling questions about the future of NYU Abu Dhabi.
The UAE authorities do not disclose why they reject visa applications, but given the current situation in the UAE and the wider Gulf region it is entirely reasonable to assume that the denial of visas to Professors Keshavarzian and Bazzi was the result either of something they had said, written or taught about regional politics or of their nominal religious identity (both are of Shi‘i origin). Our student Alya El Hosseiny, a citizen of Egypt, may have been denied entry because the UAE has apparently imposed visa quotas by nationality. Whatever the reasons, this development calls into serious question NYU’s willingness and ability to ensure the free movement of faculty and students across what the administration terms the “Global Network University,” to prevent religious discrimination against its faculty by the UAE and to protect its faculty’s academic freedom. It also indicates that NYU Abu Dhabi is not really in a position to decide who it wants to teach its students and conduct research, free of interference on political or religious grounds by the UAE authorities.
We find it extremely distressing that no NYU leader has thus far seen fit to speak out publicly in defense of our colleagues and to insist that the UAE live up to the commitments we were told it had made when NYU Abu Dhabi was launched. Instead, Professors Keshavarzian and Bazzi have been told that they should just go teach elsewhere in NYU’s global network. We do not regard that as an acceptable response. We call on President Hamilton and other NYU leaders to address, publicly and in a principled manner, the denial of visas to Professors Keshavarzian and Bazzi, as well as to other members of the NYU community, and what this means for the future of NYU Abu Dhabi.
Until NYU’s leadership addresses these issues seriously, the majority of the MEIS faculty, in solidarity with our colleagues and students, feel compelled to call on NYU faculty based in New York to consider refraining from teaching or participating in academic events at NYU Abu Dhabi until such time as all NYU faculty and students are free to do so. We further call on the NYU community to engage in a thorough and open discussion of the university’s commitments and responsibilities with regard to its faculty’s academic freedom and to their freedom of movement across its global sites.