Graphic by Megan Eloise/TheGazelle

NYU (in) Abu Dhabi: Just Another Portal in the NYU Empire?

A recent branding change has confirmed what seniors have feared from day one: NYU Abu Dhabi is not, as we were promised, a unique and independent ...

May 10, 2014

Graphic by Megan Eloise/TheGazelle
A recent branding change has confirmed what seniors have feared from day one: NYU Abu Dhabi is not, as we were promised, a unique and independent university with loose ties to NYU New York, but is actually a cleverly disguised portal in NYU’s ever-expanding global network. As if aware of the uproar that this discovery would cause, the change was made surreptitiously. For supposedly stylistic purposes, on Sunday, May 4, our logo was homogenized to match those of every other NYU school. Before this, tiny black block letters were added to our campus façade, officially turning “NYU Abu Dhabi” into “NYU in Abu Dhabi corporation.”
This is not what we signed up for. Seniors can attest to the fact that our school has evolved drastically from the vision that John Sexton proclaimed with excitement on the first Candidate Weekend, almost five years ago. If chosen to play a part in the World’s Honors College, the original NYUAD candidates would become aspiring global leaders, collaborating with students from across the modern world to transcend international political squabbles and address the most pressing problems that face the world today. They would use the wisdom they garnered from their two semesters abroad — possibly even three — to design a revolutionary capstone that would have real world consequences. Students would not only learn the finest technical skills in their field through small private class sessions with NYU’s best and brightest professors but also gain a profoundly cosmopolitan outlook on life, one that could only come with a broad liberal arts core curriculum.
The vision was ambitious, to say the least. As a start-up, it is understandable that we would stumble on our journey to achieve something of this magnitude. Where we went wrong, however, is that instead of picking ourselves back up and continuing on the road less taken, we took the easy way out and used the methods that were already established at our sister school on the Square.
Perhaps the best example of this is the Foundations of Science curriculum. Originally intended as a revolutionary way of teaching science as an integrated unit of knowledge, FoS crashed and burned in its first few years. Students were presented with overwhelming quantities of material in a less-than-organized fashion. But instead of working to improve the structure of the curriculum that would first give students a philosophical theory of knowledge, then the physical origin of the universe, then the chemical and biological consequences of physical laws, FoS became a giant cocktail of run-of-the-mill introductory science classes. Now, the largest notable difference from NYUNY’s program is that there are more requirements, and students in the social sciences and humanities are prevented from dabbling in the sciences.
Another example of a novel NYUAD idea gone awry is what we now call Global Academic Fellows, or GAFs. Originally designed to act as mentors for new students with no upperclassmen to turn to, the original cohort of GAFs — Academic Coaches — were there to tutor students through any problems or curiosities that might arise from their studies. Academic Coaches were quietly rebranded as Global Academic Fellows, transitioning from helping students to helping teachers. Mentors, who would once stay up late with students, suddenly found it not a part of their job description. Before long, the focus of a GAF was to grade exams and problem sets, nothing more than a traditional, U.S. style Teaching Assistant, and helping a student with homework or preparing for exams became a “conflict of interest.”
The downward slide from the World’s Honor’s College to just a Middle Eastern NYU was silent and incremental. One day we began using Albert to register for our classes, and, for lack of a better link, were placed as a college of NYU, right alongside the College of Dentistry and the College of Arts and Sciences. Four years later, despite our funding and curriculum being completely independent, our degree does not reflect the uniqueness of our program, but holds the same weight as any other NYU department.
The last holdout of the NYUAD vision is our Office of Global Education, and even it has not escaped unscathed. In the school’s first year, students were given incredible opportunities to travel in organized regional trips to experience the culture and history of the UAE’s neighbors. When the budget was tightened, rather than paring down the experience from five-star hotels to hostels and homestays, they were cut altogether. When the original promise of two or three semesters abroad was deemed unfeasible given the course offerings across NYU’s global network, time abroad was cut down, and students were pushed to take classes on the Square. Instead, we should encourage students to find what they need outside of NYU’s network, a challenge that Global Education has successfully orchestrated for some, but would require many more resources to organize for the majority.
There will always be obstacles to new ideas. There will always be pressure from the Square to conform, and we will always struggle to define ourselves as a university. But one thing that NYU President John Sexton had right in his heartening Candidate Weekend speeches was this: The students are the heart and soul of this university, and only they can determine the fate of this endeavor. Our student body will make, and has been making, its mark on the world — from our first Rhodes Scholar to our students who won the Hult Global Case Challenge to establishing charity programs within the UAE and securing jobs at high-end global companies. Students, you have a fresh start as the campus transitions to Saadiyat Island. Fight for transparency. Fight for inspiring classes and life-changing experiences. Fight for opportunities, and take them. Give your honest advice, even when it is not solicited. If anyone can keep the NYUAD mission alive, it is you.
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