New York University, which generates the most student loan debt of any college in America, is building a fully-functional, degree-generating campus in Abu Dhabi on the backs of migrant workers being treated like dogs.
The New York Times has the story of the men constructing the gleaming campus that NYU president John Sexton said could "transform ... the world." The workers there are experiencing conditions that are typical to Abu Dhabi:
Virtually every one said he had to pay recruitment fees of up to a year's wages to get his job and had never been reimbursed. N.Y.U.'s list of labor values said that contractors are supposed to pay back all such fees. Most of the men described having to work 11 or 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, just to earn close to what they had originally been promised, despite a provision in the labor statement that overtime should be voluntary.
The men said they were not allowed to hold onto their passports, in spite of promises to the contrary. And the experiences of the BK Gulf strikers, a half dozen of whom were reached by The Times in their home countries, stand in contrast to the standard that all workers should have the right to redress labor disputes without "harassment, intimidation, or retaliation."
Some men lived in squalor, 15 men to a room. The university said there should be no more than four.
As that paragraph alludes to, NYU released a "statement of labor values" in 2009 that addressed how the university would go about working with a country whose human rights track record is abysmal. But the Times story makes it clear with first-person accounts that NYU has either ignored its own standards or bent far towards Abu Dhabi's culture in order to get its business done.
NYU wants its Abu Dhabi campus to set a new standard for universities, but as a beacon for America it would be hard to do better than a money-sucking institution with no concern for the poor.
[image via Getty]