November 15, 2017
Dear President Hamilton,
The Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University is a leading center in the United States for the study of the modern Middle East, broadly defined. We are deeply committed to international studies and cross-cultural understanding, and support in-depth language training, field research and study in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and their diasporas. As such, the Global Network University (GNU) within NYU constitutes an integral part of our understanding of our own educative mission in facilitating community-building efforts across different campuses as well as supporting trans-regional research projects and pedagogical innovation.
The UAE’s government recent denials of security clearance to Professor Mohamad Bazzi of Journalism and Professor Arang Keshavarzian of MEIS to teach at NYUAD are cause for great concern. Both of these tenured professors are associated faculty of ours and play a critical role in the Center’s intellectual life and are not a security risk. MEIS PhD student Alya El Hosseiny’s security clearance denial is equally problematic. Indeed, students or faculty who either work on or are personally connected to the Middle East have less access to our GNU sites in the Middle East region, which puts a number of question marks on the nature of the GNU for the Kevorkian community in particular and the university as a whole. This pattern puts a major strain on our community-building efforts, as well as on the integration of the NYUAD campus, which also includes associated faculty of ours, within the GNU.
If the GNU is to achieve more than educational tourism, NYU and its leadership should have the courage to stand up to its political and educational commitments and openly address all of these breaches of trust. We expect NYU to stand firm against all policies that hinder its academic mission, and against various atrocities committed by governments throughout the GNU, just as it does on its home campus in the United States.
We stand in solidarity with all faculty, staff, and students who have been placed into compromised positions as a result of their arrangements in the GNU, denied access to sites in the GNU and elsewhere, experienced any limits on their academic freedom or freedom of expression, or have remained silent on these issues due to their vulnerability.
The Kevorkian Center is no stranger to the complexity and difficulty of the inequities of international mobility and limits on freedom of expression, even in the name of educational exchange. Many of the Kevorkian Center’s students, staff, faculty, and guests have been invariably disserviced by, inter alia, President Trump’s travel ban and previous Islamophobic US government visa policies; prohibition to enter and in some cases being expelled by countries other than the US and the UAE; and mobility restrictions on US federal funding for research and language study. Many Kevorkian members have also been impacted by conflict, embargoes, travel sanctions, boycotts between nation-states and/or institutions, exile, as well as policies, practices, and expressions of oppression and racism. The Center is keenly sensitive to these barriers and diligently seeks to overcome them, as exemplified in our hiring and admissions record, as well as our curated programming which seeks to include actors across the geopolitical spectrum.
We support various departments’ calls to NYU leadership for a more thorough and open conversation about the university’s role and responsibility in these matters. As a space that seeks to foster understanding of the Middle East and provides a platform for all perspectives, the Kevorkian Center is eager to contribute to and/or serve as a host to such a conversation.
Helga Tawil Souri, Director
Greta Scharnweber, Associate Director