After the New York Times printed an expository report on poor labor conditions on an NYU campus that was built in Abu Dhabi, the university's president John Sexton and university spokesman John Beckman have offered separate apologies for the maltreatment.
Late this afternoon, university representative John Beckman released a lengthy statement detailing and reasserting NYU's supposed "labor standards" that should have protected workers from lack of pay and squalor-like conditions where up to 15 men were confined to one room.
The occurrences cited in today's New York Times are, if true as reported, troubling and unacceptable. They are out-of-line with the labor standards we deliberately set for those constructing the 'turn-key' campus being built for us on Saadiyat Island and inconsistent with what we understood to be happening on the ground for those workers. Moreover, they are wholly inconsistent with the level of compliance we know to be the norm for those working directly for NYU Abu Dhabi at our existing campus over the last five years in operational contracts covering services for food, safety, transportation, and all other matters.
John Sexton followed up this statement a few hours later with an apology of his own, sent to the NYU community, claiming more or less the same ignorance of the working issues and reconfirming their high standards.
As I noted, we are working with our Abu Dhabi partners to investigate these reports and seek more information on these cases to determine why, if the claims are accurate, they were not picked up by the compliance monitor, and to try to correct, to the extent still possible, any lapses in compliance.
Sexton's statement was detailed in its assessment of the project's accident frequency rate, even throwing two unrelated construction projects under the bus as a comparison:
No one has questioned our safety record, which has generally been judged to be an extraordinary success. In spite of the enormous size of the undertaking — a four-year, 21 building, 4.8 million sq. ft., 38 acre project, involving 51 million person-hours of labor — the project had an accident frequency rate (AFR, the number of accidents per 100,000 person-hours) of .03, which contrasts very favorably with a UK construction industry average of .55, and an AFR for the London Olympics development of .16.
He ends by predictably promoting the wonders and successes of NYU Abu Dhabi, a dubiously necessary endeavor for the already bloated business. I'm sorry, did I say business? I meant university.
It is able to attract students worthy of winning top scholarships, able to recruit outstanding scholars to its ranks of tenured and tenure-track professorships, able to undertake meaningful research, and routinely able to persuade those who visit of its specialness and successfulness. As we approach the graduation of its first senior class, it is worth remembering that it is this community of scholars and teachers and learners that is truly at the heart of NYU Abu Dhabi.