Some University of Southern California journalism professors are raising questions about a proposal for the USC Annenberg School for Communication to sign a $3 million contract to help the American University in Dubai create a journalism and communication school in the Middle Eastern nation.
Critics are concerned that the Arab nation could discriminate against non-Muslims, especially Jews. They also don’t approve of past support by the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is part, for movements dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Among them is the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Professor Jonathan Kotler, who was joined by a half dozen colleagues, first raised the questions. Kotler told me he was concerned about UAE support for the PLO and its “civil rights record…in its treatment of foreigners, women, children and gays…” And he noted that Mohammed bin Rashid al- Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, has been sued for forcing young boys into slavery to serve as jockeys in the popular sport of camel racing.
He said the proposal “besmirches the name of the university and the Annenberg school.”
Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson told me that he understands the faculty concerns. The journalism school, he said, “has a culture of skepticism.” But the proposal offers chance to train journalists who will be gathering and distributing information to the Middle East and beyond, he said.
“All institutions are trying to find new ways to engage with the world because the world is engaging with us,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the proposal was initiated by the American University and its Mohammed bin Rashid School for Communication, which is named for the nation’s ruler. He said the Dubai university made the proposal during the administration of his predecessor, Geoffrey Cowan.
Under the proposal, Annenberg would receive $1 million a year for three years to provide the Rashid school with curriculum advice and faculty assistance. Annenberg would also work with its Dubai partner to set up an international conference center and think tank there.
A memorandum of understanding declares that neither USC nor the Rashid school would “discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, color, age, physical or mental disability, national origin, veteran status, marital status or any other category protected by law in employment or in any of its programs and/or acitvities.”
Professor Ed Cray said the proposal is “contradictory, vague and fatally flawed.”
He said it appears “the contract was drafted by an AUD lawyer. It lacks the specificity that a competent American lawyer would insert in a contract of this sort.”
Cray particularly objected to a clause in the proposal declaring that “all disputes arising under this agreement that cannot be resolved between the parties shall be brought before a proper court in the UAE.”
Dean Wilson said this was “a legitimate question that has been raised by faculty members and I respect that.” He said that one possibility would have disputes could be resolved “in a third country.”
He said that he and the faculty will discuss the Dubai proposal and Annenberg’s participation in overseas programs at a meeting Monday.
Wilson said he would like a discussion about Annenberg participation in such programs. It could include talking about: the goals of the projects; whether they are consistent with USC, Annenberg and professional “norms;” the type of governance of the overseas partner; source of funding; whether it advances Annenberg’s interests and “if we go there, do we honestly think we can do some good.”
He said former Dean Cowan had gone to Dubai and worked on the agreement. Wilson said he had also visited the university and saw “women wearing short skirts, women covered from head to toe and mixed classes. Drawing on my experience of 30 years of going around the world, Dubai is more open than many other countries in the region.”