As planning for Yale’s potential arts institute in Abu Dhabi continues, New York University formally announced earlier this month that it will open a liberal arts college of its own in the emirate.
The NYU campus — to be financed by the Abu Dhabi government and scheduled to open in 2010 — represents perhaps the most ambitious attempt by any American university to expand overseas. It will join a slew of other Western institutions slated to open over the next decade in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, including branches of the Guggenheim and the Louvre, as well as Yale’s potential institute, which could open as early as next fall.
NYU’s campus “will be the first comprehensive liberal arts campus established abroad by a major U.S. research university,” according to an NYU press release.
Because of its breadth, “NYU Abu Dhabi” will complement Yale’s planned arts institute, not compete with it, University President Richard Levin said in an interview with the News shortly after NYU’s Oct. 12 announcement.
“They’re focused on undergraduate degree programs, much like Yale College would be,” Levin said. “We’re looking at pre-professional programs in the fine arts.”
The NYU campus is designed as a full-fledged campus offering programs in a wide range of disciplines, not as a specialized institute. The school, which will enroll about 2,000 students from the Middle East and beyond, will be held to the same academic standards as the university’s New York campus, NYU President John Sexton said in a letter to the NYU community this month.
“We must embrace the concept of the spread of high-quality liberal arts education beyond our historic home as a great opportunity,” Sexton said. “NYU should be at the forefront of that opportunity, and recognize that the future of NYU’s liberal arts tradition will not and should not be confined to Washington Square.”
It was not immediately clear whether the NYU campus and Yale’s institute would have any formal relationship in Abu Dhabi if and when they both open. NYU spokesman John Beckman said Thursday that NYU officials will soon be reaching out to Yale administrators to discuss plans for the two new institutions.
“We cannot say precisely what the outlines of our interactions would be at this point,” Beckman said in an e-mail.
The campus will offer graduate programs and will not be subject to any restrictions on academic freedoms or free expression, the Abu Dhabi government said in the press release. Mariet Westermann, the NYU vice chancellor overseeing the new campus, told WNYC radio that the United Arab Emirates government has granted a “special royally decreed Academic Freedom Zone” to the university.
Some other universities have returned donations from UAE officials or declined to open satellite campuses in the emirates because of concerns about that country’s policy of prohibiting entry to Israeli citizens and allegations of open anti-Semitism among top-level officials.
Abu Dhabi’s government is investing billions in new construction over the next decade in an effort to enhance its standing as a leading cosmopolitan destination, said Bader Bin Saeed, a spokesman for the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Neither NYU nor Yale is the first university to partner with the Abu Dhabi government. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is currently helping launch an engineering research center in Abu Dhabi, and George Mason University and Michigan State University have also started programs in the United Arab Emirates in the past few years, Bin Saaed said.
“One of the UAE’s highest priorities is education,” Bin Saaed said in an e-mail. “And one critical way we ensure that students are getting the best possible preparation is through partnerships with U.S. universities.”
For Yale, that partnership, though not solidified into a plan for a campus, will result in a host of graduate degree programs, such as in architecture and sustainability and in arts and arts management. Yale’s schools of architecture, art, drama and music are all involved in program development.
Deputy Provost for the Arts Barbara Shailor said educational and cultural institutions are attracted to Abu Dhabi because the area seems to have potential not only for tourism but also for education and cultural initiatives. She said Yale’s programs would complement efforts already made by several other institutions and the United Arab Emirates government to increase the presence of the arts in the region.
“There will be a mix of cultural and educational programs, so it would contribute to the overall environment of the Saadiyat island,” Shailor said, referring to Yale’s potential institute.
School of Drama Dean James Bundy said arts programs will benefit Abu Dhabi’s cultural development.
“Art is a universal language of humanists,” he said in an e-mail. “Working with people of the UAE to bring important artistic contributions forth in the region is a thrilling prospect.”
Yale could benefit from such a collaboration, too. Universities and arts institutions are beginning to look abroad because the competition for students, professors and funding has gone global, said Elizabeth Casale, principal of New York-based AEA Consulting, a firm specializing in strategic planning for cultural institutions.
But Casale said for a satellite institution or campus to be successful, it cannot exist in name only. Attention to the content and programming of such an institution should not be lost in the glamor of new buildings and the hype of expanding abroad, she said.
“You cannot have the ‘luxury Yale experience’ — the couture line — in New Haven and then the Canal Street fake version somewhere in the Middle East,” she said. “You must never compromise on your brand or your honor in such ventures … [or] chip away one iota of quality or core values that have made Yale, Yale or the Louvre, the Louvre.”
NYU officials have vowed as much. Students at NYU Abu Dhabi will be admitted through NYU’s regular admissions office, and a portion of the faculty at the Abu Dhabi campus will be on leave from NYU’s Washington Square campus, according to the press release.
And just as Yale’s plans for the arts institute have not raised much of a stir on campus, NYU’s announcement has generated neither great controversy nor mass fanfare, said Sergio Hernandez, the university news editor of the Washington Square News, the student newspaper at NYU.
Not all student reaction was positive, but students recognized the potential for positive cultural exchanges with the United Arab Emirates, said Hernandez, who has reported on NYU’s plans in the Washington Square News.
“Some people think it’s cheapening what it means to go to New York University,” he said. But at the same time, Hernandez said, “Other people are excited about it because having the opportunity to study in the Middle East is pretty positive.”
NYU officials said site selection and planning for the new campus will begin soon, and the campus is expected to open in 2010. Yale officials said the first phase of any Abu Dhabi program will involve programs that do not require a physical space.