Critics of a new New York University campus opened in the United Arab Emirates are finding themselves the victims of a private investigation that apparently hopes to smear or discredit them, according to The New York Times.
NYU, one of the country’s most selective universities, opened a branch campus in Abu Dhabi in 2010. The campus, which has close to 700 students, has had to endure heavy criticism over whether its existence is advisable or even ethical. Andrew Ross, a sociology professor at NYU, has argued that the campus relies heavily on the exploitation of low-wage migrant workers, and also pointed out that NYU’s missions of free speech and free inquiry mesh poorly with the autocracy, which bans all criticism of the government and its officials.
Now, it appears Ross’s statements have triggered a private investigation hoping to dig up dirt on him.
According to the Times, an independent private investigator named Loren Berger has been ferreting around trying to find information on Ross, and has been making similar inquiries about Ariel Kaminer, a reporter who wrote last year about the harsh conditions faced by migrant workers in the UAE.
According to Susan Fraiman, a University of Virginia professor who was contacted by Berger, the investigator is looking for “people to comment negatively” about Ross.
Even Berger claims that she has no idea who exactly hired her.
“I can’t tell you who I’m working for — honestly, to tell you the truth, I don’t know who the client is,” Berger told the Times. “It’s not unusual. I totally understand the reason for your inquiry and the nature of it. I can’t comment.”
The most likely culprit, at least at first glance, appears to be the UAE government. It has already banned Ross from visiting the country, and the country his a history of jailing journalists.
A more intriguing possibility is that the investigation may be happening with the knowledge of NYU president John Sexton, the driving force behind the UAE campus’s creation. Fraiman told the Times that when she asked Berger the reason for her investigation, Berger cited attacks made against Sexton over the campus.
NYU has expressed shock at the private investigation and called for it to cease.
“The university has no knowledge of this and no involvement,” said NYU spokesman John Beckman in a statement. “It’s reprehensible and offensive on its face, and we call on whoever is involved to desist immediately.”
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