NYU Abu Dhabi officials forwarded the school’s new assessment, conducted by its independent monitor, which found “a good level of compliance among contractors and a high level of satisfaction among workers,” when it came to labor standards. It reported that while auditors found 87 breaches of NYU’s own labor standards—a set of guidelines updated over the course of the project, following UAE labor laws—77 of those breaches had been resolved in follow-up audits. The report monitored compliance only in the period after the campus was operational, so did not include information on alleged labor abuses during the construction process.
Chandler said NYU had delayed issuing a public compliance report because after strengthening its guidelines to protect workers, in 2016, it needed time for the independent monitor to properly assess the effect of the new rules. With regard to its policy to reimburse recruitment fees only for workers who paid fees within a year of starting work on campus, Chandler said the university had been attempting to determine whether any given worker had indeed traveled to Abu Dhabi to work for NYU. For workers who had been employed in the UAE for years before arriving on campus, she said, “We regard a claim to reimbursement as more tenuous, and not appropriate to be directed towards us.”
Tamkeen, the Emirati development authority that works as NYU’s local partner, did not respond to a request for comment.
It is not only with workers’ rights that NYU has struggled, and sometimes failed, to import its principles to the UAE. When the university first opened there, fueled by a $50 million “gift” by Abu Dhabi and the promise of much more, it declared that it would be run as a “cultural free zone”—an area where its standards of academic freedom would be respected. It hasn’t worked out that way: Mohamad Bazzi, an NYU journalism professor, wrote last year that the Emirati government had denied him a visa to work at the Abu Dhabi campus, which he believes was in part because he is a Lebanese Shia, a group that Emirati officials might suspect is sympathetic to Iran. In 2015, the Emirati government barred another NYU professor, Andrew Ross, a specialist on labor issues, from traveling to the UAE to conduct research. Meanwhile, an unknown individual or institution hired a private investigator to gather information on Ross and a New York Times journalist who published the 2014 article revealing labor conditions at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus; the article’s co-author said Emirati security officials approached him with a promise of large payments and immunity from prosecution if he wrote pro-UAE propaganda.
Chandler said that faculty and students on the NYU Abu Dhabi campus enjoy full academic freedom, and that the university considers it “disingenuous” to conflate academic freedom with a country’s immigration decisions. No university, she said, can overrule a sovereign state’s decision on who can enter its territory.