NYU: Between Idealism and Insanity?

February 20, 2009


Sexton himself acknowledges as much: “Our strategy arises organically from New York City itself, which is the first miniaturization of the world.” In fact, to hear him talk, NYU’s expansion to the Middle East is almost a moral imperative: the logical extension of his quest to make NYU “the university of the other.” 

Reading about NYU’s planned expansion in Abu Dhabi, I can’t help feeling that this is insane… Who does NYU’s president John Sexton think he is? Some kind of superhero? Like Samir Geagea, talking about metaphysical experiences and ‘glocal’ educational powerhouses. He is, unfortunately not the first to co-opt the liberal arts to use it as a branding strategy. My own alma-mater, Bard College at Simon’s Rock recently opened up a branch of Al-Quds University in Ramallah. 

Sexton is unwilling to concede that he is in thrall to petrodollars. But the Sorbonne, which opened a campus in Abu Dhabi in 2006, is quite open about having sold itself to the highest bidder. “It is a pity, but I must say that we are only in Abu Dhabi because Abu Dhabi proposed to pay for all of our expenses,” says Daniel Balland, director-general of the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi. “If we got the same offer from Doha or Cairo, we probably would have said yes, too.”

I see now that it is so easy for the tools of the culturally aware to be co-opted by the elite and turned into strategies to enhance one’s wealth and/or prestige. Sexton’s “ecumenical gift” as a strategy of cross-cultural understanding is quite frankly nauseating. It is the level of the idea which looks great on paper, or sounds great when you announce it at a board meeting, but in the end, the losers will be the small details. The workers who will build this new shining campus will, in the global market, probably earn less than $1 a day, not to mention work in conditions of near slavery like other construction workers in the petro-economies of the Gulf. 

This article was written in April, before the global economic meltdown. I just can’t believe that all these otherwise smart, well-educated, professional people actually believed that economic growth and expansion could continue indefinitely? The world population could reach 8 billion, 10 billion, 12 billion; oil prices could reach $147 a barrel, $189 a barrel… funding the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world from oil consumers in the U.S. and Western Europe to the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Qatar. If this is all a little too Syriana for you, I understand… I am overwhelmed too. What are we supposed to think, to do when faced with arrogance of this global magnitude? 

NYU students are protesting, following their fellow New School members who staged an occupation in late November. 

from Al-Akhbar: So let us put aside the empty and meaningless speeches about loving our country (because, after all, love kills) and then we will find that the common factors between the two teams are real and are not mere mirages and that the country can fit everyone whether Sunni, or Shi’i or Druze or Christian… http://www.al-akhbar.com/ar/node/119615 (courtesy of MidEastWire.com) 


Here is the official NYU statement:


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