This past winter, Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, a men’s doubles team who captured the 2008 Australian Open championship, announced plans to enter the ATP tournament in Dubai. Normally, tennis players’ schedules aren’t big news. But Ram and Erlich are citizens of Israel, and the government of the United Arab Emirates prohibits holders of Israeli passports from entering the country. (Indeed, a UAE visa page can’t even bring itself to concede that the country’s name is legitimate: “Nationals of ‘Israel’ may not enter the UAE.”) At the last minute, despite ATP rules that should have guaranteed both their entrance into the tournament and their safety while in Dubai, the duo withdrew – acting under pressure, it was widely believed, from the ATP tour and the UAE government.
Given the contemporary academy’s professed celebration of “tolerance” and “diversity,” at first blush it might seem inconceivable that a major research university would establish a co-equal branch of its institution in a country that discriminates on the basis of national identity. Yet NYU is planning to do just that. A university press release described “NYU Abu Dhabi,” which will open in 2010, as “a major step in the evolution of NYU as a ‘global network university.”
The university, which the Abu Dhabi government will fund, “will be a residential research university built with academic quality and practices consistent with the prevailing standards at NYU’s Washington Square campus, including adherence to its standards of academic freedom. The development of all the programs at the Abu Dhabi campus will be overseen by the New York-based faculty and senior administrators.” And graduates will receive the same NYU degrees given to students who attend the university in Manhattan.
NYU Abu Dhabi is the handiwork of NYU president James Sexton, who sees the new university as a step ahead in globalization. It’s also a step ahead for NYU’s finances. The Abu Dhabi government has already given a $50 million “down payment” for the institution, with promises of more money to come – including assistance for NYU’s endowment, which lags well behind that of Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.
In an interview with New York, Sexton came across as at best a naif and at worst an academic version of George W. Bush peering into Vladimir Putin’s soul. The NYU president recalled an instant “electric” connection in which “the crown prince told me that he felt it in my handshake, in my eyes, in my aura at that first meeting… I knew right then and there that we had found our partner.”