Phi Beta Cons

NYU, Otherwise Known as Planet Earth University

NYU, fresh off opening its satellite campus in Abu Dhabi, has announced plans to open a new campus in Shanghai in 2013.

[This] is the latest step in the development of NYU as a “global network university,” one that will ultimately include a dozen other academic sites on six continents. In making the announcement, NYU President John Sexton said NYU was evolving from being, in the words of NYU’s founder, Albert Gallatin, “in and of the city” to being “in and of the world.

”“New York and Shanghai enjoy a natural affinity as world capitals; as vibrant, ambitious, and forward-looking centers of commerce and culture; as magnets for people of talent,” he said. “As we did in Abu Dhabi, here in Shanghai we have found visionary partners, and our joint effort to create NYU Shanghai emerges out of a common belief in the indispensable value of higher education and in the special opportunities that can be created when the world’s greatest cities join forces. This will be a great university and a great partnership.”

Call me skeptical, but NYU’s ambition to reign over a global higher-ed empire strikes me as a case of extreme hubris. First of all, I don’t see the point, unless it comes down to power and money. Abu Dhabi’s government contributed tens of millions to NYU’s programs both in the middle east and in New York.

Second of all, I find it remarkable that prestigious U.S. institutions of higher learning, such as NYU or Yale — which recently announced plans to open a campus in Singapore – find it so easy to partner with dictatorships, communist autocracies, and one-party authoritarian states. These are the same prestigious U.S. institutions who so pride themselves on their liberal concern for human rights. But they are too busy opening campuses to think about those things now. By leasing out their names, academic prestige and credibility to some of the most repressive governments in the world, our leading universities are showing that they place ultimate value not on the principles of liberty or the free expression of ideas, but on corporate-style expansionism, power, and the almighty dollar.

We have reached the dawning of the age of the university as multinational conglomerate. Wherever you are in the world, NYU, Inc., is able to manufacture a genuine American educational experience for you (freedom not included); diplomas come in four convenient sizes. And it’s only a matter of time before McYale opens up a convenient drive-thru location in your hometown, village, or jungle tribe.

Several years ago, a Yale professor teaching for a term at Peking University (China’s most hoity-toity school, where Yale has another partner program) wrote a blistering letter, accusing PU of fostering a culture of rampant plagiarism. He found among students and faculty an appalling disregard for intellectual property and academic integrity, and called this disregard part of a “larger pattern of behavior in China.”

Should we be surprised that, in China’s case, a government that disregards its people’s rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech and is — in a word — corrupt, would foster a corrupt academic culture as well? NYU and Yale will find that all the money and “global reach” they have gained by building campuses in countries with no regard for human rights and individual liberty ultimately comes at the cost of the very renown and they are so pitifully obsessed with achieving.

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