March 18, 2015
Dear Professor Ross,
I write in response to your letters to President Sexton and Vice Chancellor Bloom about your being denied travel to the UAE. The University's position is as follows:
"As a university we believe in the free movement of people and ideas. We cannot know all the thinking that goes into any immigration authority's decisions about who is or is not granted a visa, and we've had people who were coming to our campus in New York on academic matters who have been denied visas by the US authorities, including one in the last few days. Whenever such cases arise we emphasize the principle of mobility and advocate to the relevant decision-makers that any limitation should be justified by good cause. We are doing that in the case of the individual who was denied entry to the US, and we are doing that in the case of Professor Ross."
David W. McLaughlin
Dear Provost McLaughlin,
Thank you for your message. I must say I was surprised by its formality and also that no one in the administration has extended to me any gesture of support. Things used to be different here at NYU.
You compared my case to a non-NYU affiliated person denied entry to the United States. I have a lot of trouble accepting the equivalence that you, or the university's lawyers, are drawing. I am an NYU faculty member, traveling to do research in an Emirate that has an official agreement to protect the academic freedoms of all NYU personnel. None of the colleagues I have consulted believe that your analogy, or comparison, is adequate. Nor, I am afraid, will it resonate very well with the broader NYU community, or the general public.
We have yet to see a public comment by President Sexton on this incident. Indeed, we have heard more from the next president of NYU than the incumbent. I am requesting that President Sexton issue a clear statement of support for faculty in my position, especially those likely to be labeled as "security risks" by the UAE state. There will be many faculty who want to do Abu Dhabi research in the years to come (that is one of the purposes, after all, of setting up a branch campus there). Will our Emirati partners now decide which kind of faculty research is acceptable to them and which is not?
I also hope that President Sexton acts with urgency to have the ban on my travel lifted, and publicly clarify the exact conditions under which NYU's (and its Emirati partners') guarantee of protection of academic freedom applies. Without a statement of that kind, faculty and students are left with significant uncertainty, and self-censorship will inevitably result --- in other words, the kind of mentality that is anathema to the workings of a research university.
As someone active in the AAUP for a long time, it was gratifying for me to see the administration adopt the AAUP principles on academic freedom as an operating standard at Abu Dhabi, and other overseas sites. I hope we can all live up to those principles at a time when they are being tested in this way.