Already notorious for its shameless neglect of freedom of speech and appalling abuse of migrant workers, the United Arab Emirates has certainly reached a new low after barring a New York University professor because of his criticism of the monarchy’s exploitation of expat laborers.
Although Andrew Ross was informed by U.A.E. authorities that he was barred from entering the country “ostensibly because of unspecified security concerns,” it’s believed that his research work on labor issues surrounding migrant workers on NYU’s Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) campus may have been the actual reason.
Ross, an open critic of labor exploitation in the Gulf, was ready to get on an Abu Dhabi-bound flight at Kennedy International Airport when he received the news that he is no longer allowed to enter U.A.E.
“I was told I couldn’t board the airplane,” he was quoted as saying by the New York Times. “They called the U.A.E. authorities, and the authorities there said that I was not allowed to enter the country.”
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Other N.Y.U. professors, skeptical of the given excuse to expel Ross, stated that the Gulf country’s decision jeopardizes the “university’s vision for a global university system.”
“Security reasons — that’s one of those ‘because we feel like it’ kind of reasons. And so it also interferes severely with the work of scholars who hope to work in those places, like Andrew,” stated Jim Uleman, a psychology professor.
The Coalition for Fair Labor at NYU also condemned the travel ban and said in a statement on March 16:
“The fact that professor Ross was barred from travel to the UAE, the site of NYU’s main ‘global network’ campus in Abu Dhabi, represents a gross violation of academic freedom.”
The Washington Square News, the daily student newspaper of New York University, stated that Ross intends to continue his work if the institute’s administration intervenes to ensure the ban is lifted.
“Since academic freedom is the lifeblood of any university, and this is a clear violation of it, it is paramount that the administration takes steps to guarantee unrestricted passage to the UAE for all NYU faculty and students,” he said.
This is not the first time N.Y.U.A.D. has prompted controversy involving its laborers.
Last year, an investigative report exposed appalling working conditions at the construction site of the university. Although N.Y.U. and the government of Abu Dhabi had issued an official apology to laborers who suffered any abuse during the building and even promised to investigate the allegations, Ross’ expulsion suggests things have not really improved.