The United Arab Emirates has been cracking down hard on dissent recently, arresting six democratic activists earlier this month and replacing the entire board of a leading civil rights group with government appointees. It is understandable, then, that students at Vanderbilt University are appalled that the school is considering opening a campus in Abu Dhabi.
David Pasch and Theodore Samets are the two Vanderbilt seniors reportedly leading the campaign again the administration’s proposal. “Establishing a school at the behest of an authoritarian government that suppresses free speech and violates human rights is not a good idea,” Pasch told Sohrab Ahmari at RFE/RL. “It doesn’t reflect any of the goals of this institution.”
And while the Vanderbilt administration has assured students that their free speech and internet access wouldn’t be restricted, Ahmari reports that other Western universities with campuses in the UAE have found themselves becoming government targets:
Pasch and Samets are right to be concerned. [University of Paris IV] Sorbonne and the Abu Dhabi regime presumably exchanged similar goodwill promises at the outset of their joint venture. But that didn’t stop U.A.E. officials from arresting Nasser bin Gaith, an economist and lecturer at Sorbonne’s Abu Dhabi campus, for advocating judicial reform. That move left Samer Muscatti, an U.A.E. researcher at HRW speaking to the Chronicle of Higher Education, wondering: “Are professors only protected in the 90 minutes when they are giving seminars, and after that they are fair game?”
In fact, the restrictions may be even worse for Vanderbilt, since its proposed UAE campus would display the Vanderbilt brand but would be run independently—which means that the university would have even less control over the campus governance.
More information on the campaign and information about getting involved can be found at the group’s Facebook page Students Against Vanderbilt in the Emirates.