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Campuses abroad violate rights

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By Philip Gallagher
On March 5, 2012

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It's apparently the new trend in higher education to build satellite campuses in non-Western countries around the world. New York University is planning a degree-granting campus in Shanghai and already built one in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Yale University is working on a campus in Singapore in partnership with the National University of Singapore (although that campus would grant NUS degrees instead of Yale degrees) and Carnegie Mellon intends to open a graduate school in Rwanda.

However, this international development into China, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Rwanda isn't really as great as it sounds. Universities that are expanding into these countries are enabling their poor human rights records and have their silence bought with the external funding of the new campuses.

Administrators have failed to fully consider the implications of working in countries with questionable laws. The UAE does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and will not allow individuals using Israeli passports to enter the country. I imagine that, of the over 7,000 international students and scholars at NYU, some are of Israeli nationality and, because of that, are unable to visit or participate in the activities of this new campus.

Yale's campus in Singapore will have to abide by Singaporean law, which effectively outlaws homosexuality and utilizes capital punishment in cases of drug abuse. One Yale professor, Christopher Miller, pointed out these two laws in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education in which he describes how he would have trouble visiting the new campus because he is gay. Further, if any Yale student is caught abusing drugs in Singapore, he or she could potentially have to face the death penalty-a harsher punishment than any penalty from Yale's Executive Committee in New Haven, Conn.

Several countries also have histories of censorship, which would limit the academic freedom of students and faculty. China has a record of Internet censorship, especially with Google search results. Rwanda has been recently criticized by Human Rights Watch for jailing opposition members, journalists and other critics for speaking out against the government, even if the critic was solely expressing his opinion without prior intent. In the UAE, an economics professor at the Abu Dhabi campus of the Université Paris-Sorbonne was arrested after signing an online petition for the government to become more democratic. He was originally given a two-year prison sentence but was then pardoned by UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

According to the article by Miller, the Sorbonne failed to mention the professor's arrest on their website nor did NYU Abu Dhabi demonstrate any type of protest in response. Miller also describes the censorship present in Singapore, where an author who published a book criticizing the Singaporean government was fined and jailed. The provost of Yale apparently was "not surprised" by the government's actions, explaining that the author violated Singapore's law against criticizing public institutions. It is surprising that Yale's provost is so tolerant of Singapore's censorship when that same policy goes against the basic mission of a university to critically analyze society, and, to that end, speak out against human rights violations.

American universities have clearly viewed this international expansion as financially beneficial because the bill for the construction and maintenance of these new campuses is handed to either the host government or a third party. Carnegie Mellon's campus in Rwanda is funded by the African Development Bank, NYU Abu Dhabi is paid for by the "government of Abu Dhabi," as indicated on their website and, according to an article in Bloomberg, Yale-NUS will be paid for by NUS and Singapore's government. The payment for these new campuses by foreign countries or organizations puts the American universities in an awkward position, as it isn't in their best interest to accuse their primary funding sources of compromising freedom of speech.

Universities have put themselves at the mercy of foreign governments and organizations as they accept funding for their new campuses and are thus more likely to turn a blind eye to human rights' abuses. Furthermore, the programs in these countries will compromise academic liberty and limit freedom of expression due to the host country's laws.

Those characteristics are not at all conducive to the operation of a first-class university. Study abroad programs do not face these challenges to the same degree, as the university is not making the same type of investment in the host country. A study abroad program in China is merely encouraging the exchange of students and scholars, whereas the permanent establishment of a degree-granting campus reflects a substantial investment in China and misplaced confidence in China's attitude toward free speech.

It is in the best interest of universities to be cautious of where they establish new international campuses so that the laws of the host country will not interfere with the daily activities of the university. I believe Yale, NYU and Carnegie Mellon are making big mistakes that will threaten their schools' academic integrity.


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