Weekend Reading

Cycling students through the global sites allows NYU to increase its enrollment without having to keep up the expensive New York infrastructure needed to house and support all those extra students. In Abu Dhabi, the entire project has been bankrolled by the emirate, while most of the other nodes are outposts run on the cheap, with faculties made up of relatively low-paid contract workers, not expensive and sometimes obstreperous tenured professors. The students, however, are still paying full freight. You pay NYU about the same for tuition, room, and board in Ghana as you would in Greenwich Village.

NYU’s globalization of education looks a lot like the offshoring of labor and industry in the 1990s: A multinational corporation makes more widgets for less money and uses the savings to grow even more. But while the administration is enthusiastically milking the GNU, faculty members remain skeptical of programs run in partnership with authoritarian regimes and with little academic quality control from professors in New York. “Abu Dhabi, who would want to go there?” Miller asks. “Are you kidding? You’re not even allowed to have a camera on the street there! Or be gay! Or be Jewish!”

In fact, with student and faculty participation in the GNU still lagging behind its hyper-aggressive targets, the administration has had to resort to informing departments that some of their funding will be conditioned on more enthusiastic cooperation.

You think a novel about an institution so violent and depraved that a woman would rather kill her children than be forced to hand them over is the stuff of nightmares? Imagine the waking nightmare Margaret Garner lived, faced with the awful “choice” of murdering her own kids or watching them be returned to slavery. And she was just one person out of millions. Any honest account of this history should disturb and unsettle us.

Of course, imagining that nightmare is precisely what Murphy is insisting that her kids shouldn’t have to do. The question is, does the math add up on a claim that one white kid’s bad dreams outweigh the value thousands of students get out of confronting a history we’re all still living with the ramifications of? Including many students who are bound to be the descendants of slave owners or slaves – in some cases, both?

Murphy justifies keeping students from grappling with this history in the name of “[making] sure every kid in the county is protected.” In this reckoning, 17 and 18 year olds need protection from a few lost nights of sleep, from realizing that people are capable of doing truly awful things, from the knowledge that some people live with horrific, daily, inescapable violence.

The erasure of Quvenzhané’s name is an attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to step around and contain her blackness.  Yes, sometimes black people have names that are difficult to pronounce.  There aren’t many people of European descent named Shaniqua or Jamal.  Names are as big a cultural marker as brown skin and kinky hair, and there has long been routine backlash against both of those things (see: perms, skin bleaching creams, etc.).   This insistence on not using Quvenzhané’s name is an extension of that “why aren’t you white?” backlash.

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