Concerns over limitations of academic freedom in American universities in the Middle East have surfaced following the rejection of a School of Foreign Service graduate student’s request to research migrant labor issues in the Persian Gulf region.
Bogos said she was detained for five hours during her first arrival to Qatar in June 2016 and subsequently detained on two separate occasions – for one hour and seven hours – upon returning to Qatar from trips to South Korea and Greece to renew her travel visa.
During her first detention, Bogos said security officials told her that her name was on a Gulf Cooperation Council blacklist for “security-related reasons.” She then contacted the State Department through the U.S. Embassy.
“I was told by a GU-Q administrator that my visa rejection was because I am on a blacklist and that the Qatari state could not override the blacklist,” Bogos said in an interview with The Hoya.
According to Bogos, the blacklist the immigration official referred to belongs to the intelligence communities of the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which both Qatar and the UAE members.
Bogos wrote critically of NYU’s treatment of workers involved in the construction of its Abu Dhabi campus after studying abroad in the UAE as an undergraduate student at NYU.
The university maintains that Middle Eastern countries have a right to express their sovereignty through their immigration policies.
Bogos said her case shared similarities with that of NYU academic Andrew Ross, who like Bogos studies migrant labor rights and was denied permission to board an airplane bound for Abu Dhabi in 2015.
Ross was subject to surveillance from a private investigator and is still barred from traveling to the UAE. His ban prompted the American Association of University Professors to publically condemn NYU and the UAE.
The Middle East Studies Association President Beth Baron and MESA Executive Director Amy Newhall responded similarly to Bogos’ situation with condemnations of the Qatari and Emirati governments and have called for Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia and NYU President Andrew Hamilton to condemn Bogos’ treatment.
“We further call on both of you to denounce the hacking of private e-mails belonging to members of the academic community, as well as the compilation by the UAE, Qatar and, presumably, other GCC member states of blacklists of students and scholars who are to be denied entry for political reasons,” Baron and Newhall wrote in an open letter sent to DeGioia and Hamilton.
MESA Chair of the Committee on Academic Freedom Laurie Brand wrote in an email to The Hoya that the organization has not received a response from either university. DeGioia’s office did not respond to request for comment as of press time.
NYU spokesman John Beckman told Inside Higher Ed in a statement that although the university regrets Bogos’ experience, the university is confident in its Abu Dhabi campus’ independence.“We’re sorry to hear about our alumna’s experience. We have no information or awareness about it beyond her written account. Abu Dhabi chose NYU to establish a campus there knowing that the traditions of the liberal arts and the principles of academic freedom are at our core,” Beckman said. “On the key question of whether the guarantees of academic freedom have been honored, the answer is that they absolutely have, including scholarship on issues related to labor.”
Bogos said though she has not been contacted by either NYU or Georgetown, she had seen Beckman’s comments on Inside Higher Ed.
“NYU has not said anything either,” Bogos said. “But the Inside Higher Ed piece has their statements and I wasn’t surprised to see that that was the line they were taking.”
Hellman said this case is reflective of the U.S. State Department’s own policy and tendency to reject a far greater number of student visa request from foreign countries, including Qatar and other Middle East countries.
“Generally when visas are denied, there is no reason provided. The United States isn’t obligated to provide reasons as to why a visa was denied. Qatar isn’t obligated to provide reasons as to why a visa was denied,” Hellman said in an interview with The Hoya. “This is something that they don’t give up by having a relationship with the university.”
Bogos said she understands Qatar has a right as a sovereign nation to exercise its own immigration policy but believes this right can conflict with the values of free expression and academic freedom that define a university.
“If you are going to open up a campus in Qatar, for instance, like Georgetown did, you should be able to say the same academic freedom principles that are being upheld in D.C. should be upheld there, meaning that the university should be able to secure the free movement of both students and faculty between campuses,” Bogos said.
Hellman also noted immigration policy is a sovereign right and Qatar has the discretion to adjudicate regardless of external influence.
“The relationship of academic freedom does not necessarily entail a reduction in sovereignty of a country’s borders. That applies not only to Qatar but to all countries that have universities in them,” Hellman said.
Rachel Pugh, senior director for strategic communications at Georgetown, said Georgetown regrets Bogos’ experience but accepts the authority of sovereign nations to determine immigration policy.
“Last summer, the School of Foreign Service in Qatar welcomed master’s candidate Kristina Bogos to campus as part of her studies and supported her research, as they would any scholar. Georgetown continues to support Kristina in her studies and research,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Hellman said that he communicated with Bogos regarding her visa denial, and noted that although he is concerned by Bogos’ experience, the incident is not representative of a larger issue with academic freedom.
“There’s no consistent restriction that we’ve seen on our faculty,” Hellman said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re not concerned about her case.”
Hellman cited the academic work conducted by other students and faculty in Qatar as evidence of the absence of any kind of external pressure or resistance.
“Our faculty and students in Qatar routinely work in very sensitive areas, and they haven’t faced any kind of resistance as far as we know,” Hellman said. “We haven’t necessarily seen some kind of blanket restriction on the freedom to deal with these politically sensitive issues, including the migrant labor issues.”
Bogos said she requested that Hellman and SFS-Q Dean James Reardon-Anderson raise her visa case with Qatari officials to determine if they might re-evaluate her case. According to Hellman, he has not received a response from Qatari authorities.
Reardon-Anderson said he is unable to comment on Bogos’ case.
“I and other members of the SFS-Q staff supported her request to enroll as a student in SFS-Q and to gain access to student housing and other facilities,” Reardon-Anderson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I would describe our relationship as positive on both sides.”
Bogos said she plans to continue to press her case with the Georgetown Task Force on Academic Freedom in a Global Context and with both Hellman and Reardon-Anderson, but said she believes there could be more cases of academics involved in research being denied student visas.
When she raised concerns with Georgetown administrators last year, she was told “access to study and residence visas varies across individuals and over time,” which Bogos said could imply prior student or faculty visa denials or travel bans.
Hellman emphasized that the campus in Qatar reflects Georgetown’s commitment to foreign service.
“It’s also critical that we have a strong partner, and we do have a strong partner in the Qatar Foundation who shares our values,” Hellman said. “We share a commitment to building a campus that educates a generation of students.”
Regardless, Bogos remains critical of the presence of Western universities in regions that may offer resistance to critical research.
“NYU Abu Dhabi and Georgetown Qatar, they’re both funded by the government. So, to accept that money and then to sit back and not fight to support your students, then what are you doing? Why are you over there?” Bogos said. “The message I feel now is that they’re only there for the money and just to elevate the university on the international stage, rather than actually ensuring that they’re doing what a university is doing in the first place.”