Can’t Or Won’t: Protecting Student Privacy

Recent unannounced changes to NYU Abu Dhabi student conduct policies have shed light on the lack of concrete rights for students. The current policies ...

Oct 18, 2014

Recent unannounced changes to NYU Abu Dhabi student conduct policies have shed light on the lack of concrete rights for students. The current policies are mostly direct copies of NYU New York policies, except for when legal differences exist between the U.S.A. and the UAE, like the policies on protest and dissent and alcohol. However, these general policies are over-arching and absolute and are not accompanied by any qualifications on their use, which opens the door to their abuse.
While Office of Residential Education staff verbally assure students that these policies will not be abused, the difference between “Res Ed can, but will not” and “Res Ed cannot” is a critical one to guarantee student welfare.
The current policies, as they stand, include absurd notions like prohibiting “any … flags or banners … which may be viewed outside of one’s room.” While we have been publically reassured that such policies will not be enforced to confiscate flags off students who hang flags on their windows, it is troubling that such policies could, potentially, be abused to punish students unfairly.
In particular, with another policy that states that “NYUAD reserves the right, at any time and for any reason, in its sole discretion, to enter the room without prior notice to you … to inspect for compliance … with NYUAD policies or regulations.” These policies lead to the possibility that Res Ed staff may enter our rooms unannounced, at a random time, under the pretext of enforcing the flag policy, and then discover violations of other policies — be it possession of candles, various forbidden paraphernalia or unauthorized furniture, among others — and end up writing up the residents for a whole assortment of violations unrelated to the initial reason for unannounced entry.
The policy that allows staff to enter our rooms at any time, for any reason, without giving notice, is the most alarming of all. Without commenting on specific cases, recent events have caused the student body to feel uncomfortable with unannounced staff presence in their rooms.
At the last town hall with Al Bloom, students were given verbal assurances that notice would be given for non-emergency situations. This is in line with other university policies around the world, including NYU Washington, D.C., whose Residence Life policy states that “for non-immediate needs, students will receive advanced notice” before staff entry. The difference is that at NYUAD, this policy is purely verbal. This forces students to essentially live off the goodwill of ResEd staff. Recent events have put this goodwill into question: while ResEd is certainly not malicious, goodwill is simply not a sustainable policy.
At the aforementioned town hall, students were also told that ResEd legally can, but philosophically will not, enter student rooms arbitrarily, and instead will strive to first demonstrate a reasonable suspicion that a policy has been violated. While it is heartening that Res Ed has decided not to adopt the absolute powers granted to it by the Student Housing agreement, if assurances are given only verbally, students cannot feel comfortable with such statements as they could be retracted at any time as they are not written down.
The complete lack of announcement of the updated policies on the Student Portal took many students by surprise. Again, there is no written requirement that policy changes should be announced, so in theory there is nothing wrong with Res Ed’s actions. This issue was also raised at the town hall and students were also verbally assured that future changes would be announced on the Student Portal. A Student Handbook supposedly containing all these policies written down is expected to be published next academic year, at the earliest, but until then, students cannot appeal potential abuses of Res Ed power because currently there is technically no wrongdoing by Res Ed. It is not clear why it would take so long to adopt, for example, the NYUDC policy requiring advanced notice for non-immediate needs. This could conceivably be amended by the end of the month if both students and ResEd are interested in a timely resolution.
The lack of controversial decisions in the previous four years of NYUAD’s existence is a testament to the good work that Res Ed does at NYUAD. In the same breath, as our school grows, the distance between students and staff will only grow and it becomes necessary to begin codifying the verbal agreements that limit the NYU-wide Student Housing agreements. If enforced literally, the NYU housing policies are unnecessarily draconian. Although Res Ed staff repeatedly assure students that such abusive interpretations will not occur, it is the fact that they can occur that is so troubling. To allay student fears and to re-establish the cozy rapport between Res Ed and students, verbal policies regarding student dorms must become written ones.
Jeffrey Mei is a contributing writer. Email him at
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