Atheists and Jews Forced to Lie About Religious Beliefs at NYU in Abu Dhabi

Atheist and Jewish staff members at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus in the United Arab Emirates were once forced to lie about their religious beliefs on official government documents.

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The academic fellows, who falsely identified as Buddhists and Sikhs on the advice of NYU’s Human Resources department, served as advisors at NYUAD. The graduates were “deeply involved in the formation of NYU’s budding global network,” according to Washington Square News, NYU’s independent student newspaper.

Prior to February 2012, prospective Jewish and atheist Academic Fellows were unable to accurately identify their religious affiliations when applying for work visas, according to two former Academic Fellows personally affected. Instead, they were required to choose from a limited list of religious affiliations that included the options of Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist, among others, according to Associate Vice Chancellor of Global Programs and former faculty member Josh Taylor, who was directly affected by this.

This isn’t all that surprising of a rule, considering the campus is in the Middle East, and the UAE isn’t known for its compassion and understanding toward atheists or Jews. But it is crazy to think that a major American university would go along with this plan. You might expect it to happen at a university based solely in Saudi Arabia, but not at NYU, no matter where its campuses are located.

One Jewish Academic Fellow hand-wrote “Jewish” on the Visa form since it wasn’t listed and received a call from NYU HR representative Wasim Liaqat:

Though the call was brief and the instructions were obscure, the advisor remembers Liaqat advising them to misidentify their religious affiliation on the government document. The Academic Fellow said they were then told to pick from a list of eight acceptable religions.

The good news is that Abu Dhabi changed its visa policies by 2012, which means this is no longer a problem. Still, the fact that it was a problem is something we need to think about. Staff members at a major school like NYU should be able to identify however they please, regardless of where they happen to be based.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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