Across the board, faculty have been skeptical of their college administrators’ enthusiasm to build campuses in illiberal societies, like China and the Gulf states. What agreements have been made to smooth the way? How much money is changing hands as part of the deal? Who will oversee the curriculum design? And, above all, who can guarantee that basic protections for academic freedom will be honored in countries where dissenters are locked up, physically abused, and deported on a regular basis?
The United Arab Emirates has made a strenuous effort to lure universities, along with top-flight cultural brands like the Louvre, the Guggenheim, and the British Museum. At the same time, its human-rights record is deteriorating rapidly, and several critics of the abusive treatment accorded to U.A.E.’s migrant work force have been barred from entry or deported. I joined their number when I was stopped from boarding a flight to Abu Dhabi on March 14. The airline representative checked with the U.A.E. authorities and confirmed that I could not enter the country “for security reasons.”