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NYU: An Institution Whose Leaders Lack Basic Morality

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Housing for the workers building the NYU campus at Abu Dhabi

NYU has come under significant criticism for the terrible conditions of the workers building it’s Abu Dhabi campus. Here is an excellent discussion of the connections between a single NYU trustee and the treatment of those workers.

Khaldoon Al-Mubarak sits on the NYU Board of Trustees. He is also the CEO of one of the main construction companies building the school’s forthcoming outpost in the United Arab Emirates.

That company, Mubadala, was named in a recently released 72-page report detailing how a third of the workers at the construction site were systematically exempted from the higher labor standards NYU had promised in its “Statement of Labor Values.” The statement was designed to protect workers from the harsh conditions migrant laborers typically face in the UAE.

The decision to build the campus in Abu Dhabi came on the heels of a $50 million donation to the university from the government of Abu Dhabi, and Al-Mubarak was installed as a trustee after plans for the campus were announced, according to the New York Times.

“He was central to this whole exemption scheme,” said Hugh Baran, a first-year student at NYU School of Law who was one of several people to confront an administrator about the issue last week. “Given that this is his company, he surely had some knowledge [of the labor conditions].”

The damning report outlines an investigation by a firm hired by the government of Abu Dhabi, Nardello & Co., that ostensibly aimed to verify media reports of substandard labor conditions at the site.

The construction companies, including Mubadala, had established an “exemption” that excluded short-term employees from the guarantee of improved working conditions promised by NYU, according to the report. This exemption could also be applied to lower-cost contracts.

The report found that some people affiliated with NYU “said they were aware of a time threshold” that allowed different working conditions for short-term employees.

Oh I’m sure they were aware and totally fine with it. This NYU deal is about nothing but cash for top university administrators and their friends. It is utterly corrupt and the fact that its own professors can not enter Abu Dhabi to report on these labor conditions shows just how debased this deal and the administrators who support it have become.

Is there anything the modern university president won’t do for money?

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  • dp

    I guess the beauty of an academic specialization in the exploitation of labor is that you never run out of subject matter.

  • Salem

    Two posts in a row attacking the Arab world.

    ETA: That doesn’t mean that the targets are necessarily illegitimate. But the issue of exploited workers is hardly unique to the Middle East, and yet here’s this weird focus. Let’s hope it’s coincidental.

    • MAJeff

      And if it’s one thing Erik has studiously avoided during his time at LGM, it’s labor exploitation in the non-Arab world.

      That’s some really weak-ass trolling.

      • Hussain Jabbar

        He hasn’t said anything about Richard Epstein a Jewish Professor of Law at NYU.

        • Brett

          EDIT: Nah.

    • MPAVictoria

      What the hell are you talking about?

      Am I taking crazy pills? Is there anything here that is incorrect? Do you disagree with the blog post in anyway? Are you in favour of slave labour?

      • Hussain Jabbar

        The Koran permit slavery.

      • Salem

        Yes, clearly the only reason I could be opposed to the victimisation of Arabs is that I favour slave labour.

        Workers are exploited all over the world. So when someone (in a non-Arab country) goes on about worker exploitation in Arab countries, it makes me suspicious. Yeah, maybe it’s a coincidence.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          i thought the point of this post was more the corruption of the nyu administration in undermining its own stated policies than it was the exploitation itself

          • That’s only because you have a functioning brain.

          • MAJeff

            You mean, like the title of the post even states, “NYU, an institution whose leaders lack basic morality” and closes with the sentence “Is there anything the modern university president won’t do for money?”

            Of course, that makes it, by definition, anti-Arab.

            • Hussain Jabbar

              All criticism of Islam is by definition Islamophobic.

        • Hussain Jabbar

          The people on this blog hate Muslims and out unique customs like slavery and beheading homosexuals.

          • Malaclypse

            Troll better, Jennie. Also, your spelling is really starting to slip lately. Are you getting drunk alone earlier in the day now? Because we’re concerned.

            • BubbaDave

              Speak for yourself. Jennie can switch to drinking Prestone straight out of the bottle for all I care.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            you have nothing better to do with your day? listen. i think traffic is calling you to come out and play in it

            • Malaclypse

              As a liberal, nothing would fill me with a sense of helpless rage quite so much as knowing that Jennie was sitting in his garage, running his Ford Overcompensator SUV with the windows down and the A/C cranked, just to waste gasoline. Seeing someone pollute the atmosphere and waste resources like that is something I hate more than Reagan. I really feel strongly that there should be government regulation to prevent that sort of thing.

        • MPAVictoria

          “Workers are exploited all over the world.”
          And? So what? Is this a point? Should we just stop talking about it because it happens too often?

          ” So when someone (in a non-Arab country) goes on about worker exploitation in Arab countries, it makes me suspicious.”
          So you are a paranoid idiot. Okay

          “Yeah, maybe it’s a coincidence.”
          Maybe? Maybe?!?! Look you stone cold dumbdumb go and read some more of Erik’s posts on workers rights and then come back and apologize.

        • DrDick

          The people being victimized here are the largely Pakistani and Indian Muslim guest workers. Working conditions in the Arabian Peninsula for guest workers (almost all Muslims from South and Southeast Asia) are truly horrific. I guess it is OK if they are abused by fellow Muslims.

        • Rob in CT

          victimisation of Arabs

          What the actual fuck?

    • JL

      Last I checked, NYU, the primary target of this post, was an American institution being run primarily by white Americans. The current president, used as an example of the “modern university president,” is a white American man.

      • Hussain Jabbar

        He has no problem with NYU having Zionist faculty.

    • Brett

      Did you follow his blog at all before posting this? Erik’s never confined his beat on labor exploitation to the Arab World, but he had written about NYU and the labor abuses involved before.

      And let’s face it – the labor abuses faced by migrant workers in the Gulf are quite bad.

    • Someone has discovered my secret–I talk about labor because I am actually plotting for Christian dominionism combined with the Israeli takeover of the entire Middle East.

      • Hogan

        And it would have worked if it weren’t for those meddling trolls.

    • gene108

      But the issue of exploited workers is hardly unique to the Middle East, and yet here’s this weird focus.

      I think the level of bondage the people running the joint, in the ME, try and extract out of foreign workers exceeds what is done in other countries.

      Confiscating passports, so you cannot quit and return home, is common practice, whether you work as a laborer or in a white collar field.

      Also, the fact these countries are flush with cash and import most of their workforce creates a unique employment dynamic not seen elsewhere in the world. Sure some countries have lots of immigrants, like say 10% to 20% of their population and/or workforce, but in the ME you are looking at least at 50% of the workforce being foreign, with no pathways to citizenship, or full legal rights. This creates a rather unique power imbalance between employer and employee.

  • howard

    wait: the board has approved handing a construction contract to a company owned by a board member?

    i think, erik, that possibly it’s more than “administrators and their friends” who are benefiting here.

    • Salem

      Khaldoon al-Mubarak doesn’t own Mubadala, he’s the CEO. The company is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi. If NYU is paying for the campus, I’d say that would likely count as a conflict of interest, but if the campus is being paid for by the Abu Dhabi government, it would likely not count. I don’t know who’s paying for the campus.

      • howard

        you’re right, i took it too quickly for granted that the ceo of a construction company would also be the owner.

  • Hussain Jabbar

    So Muslims should be denied an education because their countries have different customs than the West? You are an Islamophobe.

    • Aimai

      Aren’t the workers also Muslim? How does standing up for the human rights of Muslim workers equate to being an Islamophobe? Also: surely a duty to stand up for the rights of workers and to protect the weak from suffering is an actual Islamic duty of charity and faith? Or have I got that wrong?

      • Hussain Jabbar

        Slavery is permitted under is Islam(the Arab slave trade predates the Atlantic slave trade by decades). Telling Muslims to stop keeping slave is Islamophobic.

        • MAJeff

          It’s also permitted in the Bible. Indeed, it’s prescribed under certain circumstances.

          I’m sure you’re Confederate ass would love the Southern Baptist Convention, which was formed explicitly to support slavery!

          Maybe that’s behind Page Bobby’s new RFRA in Louisiana.

        • Hogan

          by decades

          “How long have Pico and Alvarado been out on patrol, sarge?”

          “Since 1400.”

          “Geez. That’s two thousand years.”

    • MAJeff

      Clean up on aisle Jenny.

      • Aimai

        I was just about to say that, in those exact words! Now I know how my youngest daughter feels every time we get to the joke before she does.

    • The Temporary Name

      So Muslims should be denied an education because

      Trolling premise fail.

  • Brett

    Is there anything the modern university president won’t do for money?

    For ego, too. This feels like it’s about more than money – it’s about the president’s egotistical desire to get the credit for a massive expansion of NYU and transformation into a “world-class university”.

    Same thing when presidents at other colleges throw up new buildings rather than restoring/maintaining the existing ones.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      The term “world class university” is one that should be abolished. Every time I have heard it used it has been in the context of justifying horrible policies, usually expecting more work for less pay from faculty or taking away faculty academic autonomy. Using it to justify slave labor is just the next natural step.

      • RobertL

        I’ve heard it used in less obnoxious ways. We’re famous for our cultural cringe here in Australia, and label everything “world class” in an effort to convince ourselves that we are as cool as the cool kids in Europe and the US.

        For example, I live in Brisbane which calls itself Australia’s “new world city”. And various of our universities claim to be world class.

        It’s a bit pathetic really.

  • KadeKo

    Jeezy Petes, but when I read “NYU” and saw the pic, the first thing I thought was “Jacob Riis, Photoshopped”.

  • gene108

    The Middle East has been treating workers poorly, by Western standards, for a long time. This is not news to the people from Asia*, who work in the Middle East and make up most of the work force of the Middle East.

    By 1999, the number of foreign workers in the Gulf states totalled 7.1 million, representing almost 70% of the total workforce in these countries (The Middle East Institute, 2010). In 2000, the percentage of foreign workers in the labour force was 80% in United Arab Emirates, 64% in Bahrain and 82% in Kuwait. It is estimated that almost 50% of the population of UAE comprises of South Asians, almost all of whom are non-nationals.

    http://www.striking-women.org/module/map-major-south-asian-migration-flows/post-1947-migration-middle-east

    On the flip side, there are damn few to no taxes in the Gulf States. You keep what you make. If you manage your housing as cheaply as possible, you can save up a lot of money to send back home.

    Also, from everything I’ve heard about the Gulf States, anyone who has any kind of money to throw around is in one way or another tied to the royal families ruling these states and in order to get contracts and do business there’s a lot of you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours sort of deals struck.

    I just get the feeling there’s a whole lot of “shocked there’s gambling in the casino” sort of outrage, when these sort of labor issues percolate into the Western media. You have to deliberately not be paying attention to not notice.

    * I’ve known folks in white collar fields – IT and accounting – who worked in the ME. The companies they worked for held their passports. If the company felt like you deserved some time off to go see the family they would return your passport to you to travel abroad. If they felt they needed you, you were stuck.

    • bluejohnnyd

      I’ve known folks in white collar fields – IT and accounting – who worked in the ME. The companies they worked for held their passports. If the company felt like you deserved some time off to go see the family they would return your passport to you to travel abroad. If they felt they needed you, you were stuck.

      Does it make me a cultural imperialist to remark that that practice sounds completely fucked up and should be illegal? Because that sounds completely fucked up and should be illegal.

      • gene108

        No. It is fucked up.

        It’s just not much of a secret, if anyone bothered to look.

        There’s a lot of money in the ME and people are more than happy to go from Asia to work their, because – though the overall life quality is probably not good long term, i.e. “nice place to visit” and all – you can sock away some cash, if you end up working there and are relatively frugal with expenses.

        So people keep going to work there.

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