MAYBE UNIVERSITIES SHOULDN’T TRY TO BE GLOBAL ENTERPRISES: Academic Freedom in an Era of Globalization.
Not surprisingly, this growing dependence on outside funding has been criticized for weakening the technocratic university’s commitment to academic freedom.
This is not just disturbing in the domestic context. It is also troubling in the global context. For example, some of America’s leading universities have in recent years agreed to help authoritarian regimes build their own state-of-the-art research facilities. There are, for example, several medical school satellites of U.S. institutions—Duke’s partnership with Singapore was one of the first of these, dating to 2005. One of the most prominent non-medical examples of these ventures is the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, developed in cooperation with MIT. Masdar wears the benign aspect of a richly resourced institution devoted to finding new sources of sustainable energy. But given the lack of transparency in the Persian Gulf kingdoms, not to mention the susceptibility of American researchers to flattery and especially generosity, it is not hard to imagine some dubious outcomes.
An even greater challenge arises when an American university agrees to plant a full-fledged liberal arts college in authoritarian soil. Three prominent examples would be NYU-Abu Dhabi; NYU-Shanghai (developed in cooperation with East China Normal University); and Yale-NUS (a partnership between Yale and the National University of Singapore). Because these transplants do not confine themselves to science and technology, it seems inevitable that their commitment to academic freedom will be tested.
So far, the record is mixed, with NYU and Yale both trying to sidestep the fact that their overseas partners do not share the assumption, deeply ingrained in U.S. higher education, that there is a necessary connection between liberal arts education and democratic citizenship. In the case of NYU, Sexton is on record saying, “I have no trouble distinguishing between rights of academic freedom and rights of political expression. These are two different things.”