[Marxism] A Trustee’s Connections May Complicate NYU-Abu Dhabi Labor Probe
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Thu May 29 06:09:05 MDT 2014
Chronicle of Higher Education May 29, 2014
A Trustee’s Connections May Complicate NYU-Abu Dhabi Labor Probe
By Jack Stripling
New York University has promised a swift investigation into recent
allegations that construction workers were mistreated at its Abu Dhabi
campus, but the probe could be particularly thorny, given a university
trustee’s role within the emirate’s government.
NYU has been embroiled in controversy since last week, when The New York
Times reported that laborers building the opulent, government-financed
campus in the United Arab Emirates lived in squalid housing and
struggled to get by on low wages. Those charges were particularly
damaging to NYU, given the university’s "statement of labor values,"
issued in 2009, which pledged that all workers on the campus would be
treated with a level of fairness and dignity uncommon in the region.
The controversy has brought attention to Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, a
member of the university’s Board of Trustees who is a businessman and a
policy adviser to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. Through various
leadership roles, Mr. Al Mubarak has been at the nexus of a group of
organizations charged by the university and its Abu Dhabi governmental
partners with monitoring whether workers, including contractors and
vendors, were treated appropriately.
NYU officials have pledged a "thorough investigation" of the allegations
raised in the Times article, adding that the "results will be
transparently reported." As of Wednesday, however, university officials
said they could not answer questions about whether a third party would
conduct the probe or how the board might respond if Mr. Al Mubarak were
found to have any responsibility for labor problems.
"Mr. Al Mubarak is a respected member of the NYU board, and his
membership is not in question," John H. Beckman, a university spokesman,
said in an email.
Mr. Al Mubarak was not made available for comment on Wednesday.
Jill T. Derby, a consultant with the Association of Governing Boards of
Universities and Colleges, said that the allegations had "cast a shadow"
on New York University’s operations in Abu Dhabi and that any trustees
with direct involvement in the project should step away from the
"There are clear guidelines about that person recusing themselves from
that entire discussion," said Ms. Derby, a former chairwoman of the
Nevada System of Higher Education's Board of Regents. "The standard is,
you leave the room."
Mr. Al Mubarak’s connections to the project are significant. He is
chairman of Abu Dhabi’s government-run Mubadala Development Company,
which was charged with building NYU’s main campus in the emirate, on
Saadiyat Island. He also has reporting-line authority over Tamkeen, the
Abu Dhabi agency charged with monitoring the project’s "commitment to
workers’ rights," an independent compliance report states.
Construction of the Abu Dhabi campus has involved numerous contractors.
In a statement on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Mubadala said that the
company’s role was as "development manager," overseeing the appointment
of contractors who "pledged adherence" to the standards set forth in 2009.
"The issues raised, if accurate, not only violate the spirit of the
Joint Statement of Labor Values, they violate Mubadala’s own principles
of doing business," Robin Haddrill, the spokeswoman, wrote.
Man of Connections
College trustees across the United States are expected to bring money
and connections to the institutions they serve, and in that sense Mr. Al
Mubarak is a typical board member. No one can argue with his connections.
In 2010, The Wall Street Journal named Mr. Al Mubarak among its "Who’s
Who" of nonroyal officials in the United Arab Emirates.
Ticking off his credentials as a powerful force, the newspaper mentioned
Mr. Al Mubarak’s role as "right-hand man" to the crown prince, his
sporty Maserati, and his increasing international profile as chairman of
England’s Manchester City Football Club.
NYU’s board added Mr. Al Mubarak to its roster in February 2008, about
four months after the Abu Dhabi deal was announced.
Jack B. Siegel, a nonprofit-governance expert, said it is easy to see
why the board would want Mr. Al Mubarak’s expertise. At the same time,
Mr. Al Mubarak is in the unique position of serving two masters, as both
watchdog for NYU’s best interests and a government official loyal to Abu
Dhabi, Mr. Siegel said. Those interests may not always be aligned.
"Are they getting the full picture, or is he filtering information?"
asked Mr. Siegel, a Chicago lawyer. "If I were on the board, I’d be
saying to myself, ‘Wait a second, I can’t just be listening to what this
guy says. I have to have some independent and objective viewpoint to
make sure the university is being protected.’"
That objective viewpoint is said to be provided by Mott MacDonald, a
third-party consulting company that produces annual reports about
labor-standard compliance at NYU-Abu Dhabi. The group’s latest report
found some problems but concluded that, "over all, there is strong
evidence confirming the NYU-AD project is taking workers’ rights seriously."
Mott MacDonald is part of a monitoring regime that includes several
different agencies, and Mr. Al Mubarak is not far removed from any of
them. Tamkeen, the government agency that appointed Mott MacDonald, is
wholly owned by the Executive Affairs Authority of the Government of Abu
Dhabi, a policy-advising group led by Mr. Al Mubarak.
"Tamkeen has the mandate to deliver the NYU-AD Project on behalf of the
government of Abu Dhabi and to monitor the NYU-AD Project’s commitment
to workers’ rights," the compliance report states.
Officials at NYU and Mubadala, the development company, did not respond
to inquiries on Wednesday about Tamkeen’s leadership, and specifically
about whether Mr. Al Mubarak works directly with the agency.
Mr. Al Mubarak's role as chief executive of Mubadala has come under some
scrutiny because the company was responsible for construction of the
Saadiyat Island campus, where the labor problems were alleged. But NYU
officials have pushed back against any suggestion that a company headed
by one of its trustees got a sweetheart deal to build a campus overseas.
On the contrary, officials said, the government that owns Mubadala is
pumping money into NYU by agreeing to pay for campus construction and
"To be clear: NYU did not pay any money to Mubadala or anyone else
associated with the project," Mr. Beckman, the university spokesman,
said. "Were there to be an issue that posed a conflict of some sort, the
board would handle it in the appropriate manner."
Mubadala, which has $61-billion in assets, does not claim to be a
charity. In addition to improving the quality of life in Abu Dhabi and
the United Arab Emirates, its investments "are designed to generate
sustainable profits over the long term," the company’s website states.
In recent years, New York University has seemed to lurch from one
controversy to the next. Faculty critics have trained their criticism on
John E. Sexton, the university’s president, and the Board of Trustees,
both of whom detractors describe as having an overly corporate approach
Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies, said the Abu Dhabi
controversy was just the latest manifestation of problems that arise
when dealmakers run an academic institution.
"When you have a board that’s comprised exclusively of big players in
real estate, finance, and law, without any academic element, it is
inevitable that they will tend to forget what a university is really
for," he said.
"There’s a reason why all the schools in the country are watching this
fight here," he added. "What’s happening here is, in a way, the most
extreme version of what’s happening all over."
Professors in Abu Dhabi, however, have been less critical. In a letter
to The Chronicle published on Wednesday, about 50 faculty members signed
a letter that said they were convinced that the university’s partners
were "trying to do their best."
At the same time, the professors said, the university’s compliance
mechanisms probably needed revisiting.
"We know that this review is now taking place, understand that it will
take some time to complete, and are quite aware that the institution’s
reputation rests upon it responding decisively to address any failings
that emerge from this review," the letter states.
Jay W. Lorsch, a Harvard Business School professor with expertise in
corporate governance, said that any thorough investigation of the NYU
matter would focus on who knew what when, including what Mr. Al Mubarak
may have known in his role as a government adviser.
"Somebody had to know what was going on if it was going on," Mr. Lorsch
said. "Someone at NYU."
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