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Illustration by Mahgul Farooqui

The Global Network University in the Age of Nativist Politics

Sexton’s world—a world that embraces the free exchange of ideas and free movement across borders—is a world increasingly threatened by the rise of nativist politics and a rejection of globalization.

Oct 5, 2019

The Global Network University is one of the most ambitious projects in academia, both because of the sheer size of the project and the vision behind it. Three full-sized degree-granting campuses – in New York, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai – and 12 smaller study away sites across the U.S, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia represent the true globalization of academia. The architect of this ecumenical university – NYU’s former president, John Sexton – argues in his recently published book that the aim behind it is to tap into and contribute to the global flow of ideas and talent.
But Sexton’s world – a world that embraces the free exchange of ideas and free movement across borders – is a world increasingly threatened by the rise of nativist politics and a rejection of globalization. And as Sexton’s world is threatened, so too is the fruit of his labor.
Last month, President Trump took the stage at the United Nations General Assembly to deliver a sharp rebuke of these very ideals. “The future does not belong to globalists,” Mr. Trump argued. “The future belongs to patriots.”
Trump’s espousal of a strong national identity and even stronger borders is no longer an outlying political belief. Across much of the developed world, there has been an upsurge in nativism and a strong rejection of globalization from various factions of society. Trump is just the most visible among a long list of political leaders and organizations that are rallying against the cornerstones of globalization – free movement and free exchange of ideas – in favor of nationalism. Beneath this veneer of national interest however is a racial dichotomy of white versus non-white that drives this brand of politics.
Critically, for us as NYU students, many of these political groups are situated in countries that host Global Network sites. The U.K., Germany, France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Australia and Spain have all seen candidates and platforms that reject globalization and otherize immigrants perform well at the polls. Their success represents the popularity of these sentiments with the general public of these countries. In the U.K., for example, the election of Boris Johnson to the post of Prime Minister represents a stunning rejection of immigration and European integration. The rise of Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland represents a backlash against the pro-immigrant policies of Angela Merkel. In nearby France, Marine Le Pen’s rise represents a rejection of the French state’s policy of integrating immigrants. The rise of such politics is nearly always followed by a rise in racist incidents.
For example, in the two years after the Brexit referendum, racist incidents at UK universities rose by 60 percent. In total, racist incidents in the UK are up by 14 percent. In Germany, these incidents are up by 20 percent over the last year.
But all of these examples pale in comparison to the United States. On an official level, nativism in the U.S. has resulted in the so-called “Muslim ban,” visa denials and a crackdown on immigrants and refugees. On a societal level, its most extreme manifestation has been increasing incidents of mass shootings driven by an anti-immigrant agenda.
For non-white NYU New York, NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai students studying away in Europe or the United States, rising racism and nativist politics will result in an increase in the number of incidents where students are racially abused or attacked. Immersing yourself in the city and culture you are studying away in is an integral part of the study away experience, and the uptick in racism and nativist politics inevitably brings added risk to that immersion. And with the rise of far-right gun violence in the United States, the threat goes beyond everyday racism.
It would be alarmist to say that the very existence of the Global Network is threatened, but given these circumstances, it is impossible not to view the rise of nativism as a rejection by large parts of Western society of the ideals the GNU represents and a challenge to the Global Network’s aim of open educational access for all NYU students. The ideal of a Global Network University must not only be built around the fact that students of any race can transcend borders in the pursuit of an education but that they can do so without inhibition. The upsurge in nativist politics makes that already difficult ideal impossible to meet. And as more countries adjust to accommodate nativist sentiment, studying away itself might become more and more difficult for some of us.
Universities need to ensure that they not only provide students with numerous opportunities for advancement, but that they do so in an equitable and – perhaps more crucially – safe manner. As GNU sites such as the United Kingdom descend into chaos over the nativist dream of Brexit and racism becomes more rampant, or Trump further tightens regulations over who can and can not enter the United States, one is left to wonder how long it is before much of the Global Network becomes exclusive to certain ethnicities and nationalities.
Sobha Gadi is Senior Opinon Editor. Email him at
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