Monday, May 19, 2014
New York University is learning the peril of starting operations in a different culture. Although the University set guidelines for how workers should be treated at its Abu Dhabi campus, The New York Times has found that laborers were exploited and mistreated. That is a blow to NYU's reputation even though it had no direct control over the contractors who hired and sometimes paid the East Asian workforce. How could NYU have let this happen? The University's answer is that it didn't know. A tort lawyer would charge that the University should have known, given the history of poor treatment of foreign workers in Arab countries. If there was a mistake in building the campus, it might have been in oversight that NYU neglected. If the Times' reporters could document abuse, one would think that NYU could have done the same. There also could have been naivete -- assuming contractors would abide by the University's principles but failing to check if they were. Either way, the Abu Dhabi campus has become a sore point and PR headache for the University and a cautionary tale for other academic institutions who might wish to move into different cultures.