Grading Andrew Ross Sorkin

Author: Andrew Ross Sorkin (@andrewrsorkin)

Article: “N.Y.U. Crisis in Abu Dhabi Stretches to Wall Street,” May 26, 2014 10:14 pm

Grade: C

College professors teach their students that written arguments must be based on cited evidence. Depending on the field, that evidence can take the form of statistics, quotations from texts, first-hand accounts, archival materials, or scientific data. Students are told to check not only their spelling and grammar before submitting a paper, but also their facts. Indeed, they probably should check facts before checking the other things.

Mr. Sorkin’s article, which focuses on NYU trustee Khaldoon al Mubarak, is marred by three errors of fact.

Luckily, Mr. Sorkin — or his editors — caught the most egregious error, in which he confused two football teams (that’s soccer for you in the USA) in the English Premier League: Manchester United and Manchester City. Mr. Al Mubarak was initially identified — erroneously — as the chairman of the former.

Thank goodness, no Manchester fans of either stripe seem to be readers of Mr. Sorkin’s blog. Making that mistake is a little bit like confusing the Yankees and the Mets.

Screenshot 2014-05-29 16.50.24

Unfortunately, in correcting that error, Mr. Sorkin repeated another error: that Mr. Al Mubarak’s firm was hired as the general contractor for the construction of  NYU’s campus in Abu Dhabi.

That’s patently false. Mr. Al Mubarak is the Group Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director of Mubadala, an investment and development company whose mandate is to assist the diversification of Abu Dhabi’s economy. Its relation to the NYUAD Saadiyat Campus is this: it is the client.

NYU and the Abu Dhabi government are partners in the creation of NYU Abu Dhabi, and Mubadala is the entity responsible for getting the campus built as part of that arrangement. Mubadala therefore hired a general contractor, which happens to be Al-Futtaim Carillion. If you click on the “New York University” link listed under “Major Projects” on the AFC website, you get this screen, which pretty much spells it out:

Screenshot 2014-05-29 17.01.29

Since I’m assuming that Mr. Sorkin, a respected business journalist, knows the difference between a client and a contractor, I’m assuming he just didn’t bother to check his facts (just a few clicks on Google, Mr. Sorkin) before posting his piece. Anyone who had read any of the compliance reports submitted by Mott McDonald about the NYUAD project wouldn’t have made this mistake either (those reports probably should have been part of Mr. Sorkin’s homework too).

The third mistake is embarrassing, but perhaps forgivable if we grant that political nuance isn’t Mr. Sorkin’s forte. The article refers to Mr. Al Mubarak as “chairman of Abu Dhabi’s governing executive council.” In fact (as his Mubadala bio tells us), Mr. Al Mubarak is “Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority (EAA), which provides strategic policy advice to the Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, of which he is also a member.” The “chairman of Abu Dhabi’s governing executive council” (as Mr. Sorkin  puts it) is the Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohamed.

Call me a pedant for wanting my journalists to get their facts straight, but this last mistake is a little bit like asserting that John Kerry runs the Executive Branch of the U.S. government.

I’m waiting for the rewrite, but so far none seems to be forthcoming.

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Not Just Another Commencement


Deb and I have written a reflection on Sunday’s inaugural NYUAD Commencement. It’ll be published in the “Opinion” section of tomorrow’s National, but the online version is already available here.

Also available is the full video of the Commencement ceremony:

Yours truly walks in as part of the “color guard,” holding the NYU NY flag at the head of the procession, at about 18:00 minutes. (I’m the one in the pink — er, crimson — robes.)

Bill Clinton’s speech begins at 1:29.


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Ma’asalama Class of 2014

Ma'asalama 2014

I had the honor of serving in the “color guard” during the inaugural NYU Abu Dhabi commencement today, which meant that I got to carry the NYU NY flag at the head of the procession of graduating seniors as they entered the hall. (The other flags represented the US, the UAE, and NYUAD.)


Yesterday, as I rode to the rehearsal at the gymnasium of the new Saadiyat campus, I had a feeling of déjà vu: four years earlier, I had ridden on buses out into the desert with many of these seniors during their candidate weekends, when they were still just prospective students. In the years since, it’s been a privilege to get to know many of them and have some of them in my classes.

A colleague, speaking at the Arts & Humanities “faculty farewell” to the students on Friday, remarked that although he did not come to NYUAD because of the students (having not met them before arriving here), it was because of them that he was committing his career to the institution.

I, in contrast, had been lucky of enough to know some of them in advance because of I took part in their candidate weekends, and it really was as a result of meeting our prospective students that I became hooked on the project. I described one of those weekends more than four years ago in a post called “New Friends in the Desert,” and the comments left by some of the candidates helped my colleagues in New York who were working on the NYUAD project to get the same sense of possibility that meeting these prospective students awakened in me. It was a pleasure to watch some of the students who left comments on that post walking across the stage this morning to receive their degrees.

I’ll be reflecting a lot more on the Abu Dhabi project in the days to come (as my family and I prepare to move to a faculty residence on the new campus on June 1). In the meantime, today belongs to the Class of 2014. I wish you could meet all of them, but you can get to know them a little by watching the videos below.

The first seven-minute video was shown today during the Commencement ceremony, and it will give you a sense of what our seniors are like and what they’ve learned in the past four years together.

During the video, the students refer to some of the research that they pursued as part of their senior-year capstone projects. I watched the following video being made outside my office during the last weeks of the spring term. It was shown at the “Faculty Farewell” luncheon on Friday.

One of the students featured in the first video is Alex Wang, who won a Rhodes Scholarship because of his research into migrant communities here. Here he is describing what it was like to receive the award.

I remember having breakfast with Alex at the Sama Tower dining room at an early moment in his first year, when things were seeming a little bit tough. Alex, like so many of his classmates, found a way to keep going when the going got tough. As students who spent all four of their years being our “seniors,” the members of the Class of 2014 have set an example for those who have come after. They’ve collaborated with the faculty and staff here to make NYU Abu Dhabi into a vibrant community and have learned what it means to be citizens of the world. I look forward to watching them take what they have learned here and spread its light in the years to come.

Mabrouk, Class of 2014! We will miss you. Please stay in touch. I look forward to seeing many of you back here for your fifth reunion. Those of you who are staying in the region should come back to see us on Saadiyat much, much sooner.

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Rereading a Thirty-Year-Old Letter


I’ve never been very good at keeping journals. I’d always start well, but then I wouldn’t keep it up, and I would leave blank pages to fill in later, and sometimes I would, and sometimes I wouldn’t and … let’s just say that I’ve noted some pages in the third journal from the 1984 trip that have dates and places at the top, but nothing else below. But, thirty years later, even those bits of information — date and place — are useful as one tries to reconstruct the past.

Knowing, I think, that I’d never be able to keep up a full journal, I decided to kill two birds with one stone: I would write letters and keep carbon copies of them in the journal. And that’s what the first entry in the journal is: dated “February 21, 1984,” it’s a letter to S. describing my first couple of days in San Francisco. Reading it now brings me back to the days before e-mail, Skype, and cell phones made keeping up a long-distance relationship so much easier. These were the days of letters and stamps and really expensive long-distance calls.

The letter is something of a hybrid, an odd mixture of love letter and travelogue. My recollection, now, is that S. ultimately came to feel that my letters to her were too much of the latter and too little of the former. So the moving scene with which it begins — the tearful good-bye at the airport — and with it with the hope that we will rekindle our relationship in Paris three months later, quickly gives way to an account of the plane ride, a conversation with two guys who were college buddies at Williams, the meal on the plane, and a movie called Brainstorm that I apparently watched.

I don’t really recall any of that — in fact, I must confess that I don’t actually recall the tearful goodbye — but I do remember visiting San Francisco for the first time in the company of my uncle, my mother’s half-brother. (I’d only recently discovered that he was actually my uncle and not an “uncle” in the sense that Filipinos often use the term, as a respectful way of addressing an older male relative — but that is another story.)


In the intervening years, I spent a lot of time in the San Francisco Bay Area. My college roommates C. and J. moved there, my wife’s dear college friend lives there, and I did a post-doc at Berkeley for two years after graduate school. It’s fun, though, to look back at the wonder with which I first saw the city. I wrote (in full travelogue mode):

San Francisco is such a wonderful city to walk around in; I’ve never seen such a naturally scenic city. Surrounded by the the bay, which is truly beautiful, and the hills in the distance, all green (the entire city is wonderfully green now — it took me a while to realize what it was that was so different from NY), one seems constantly to be stumbling onto one beautiful view after another. The hills of the city only add to the effect, as one turns a corner only to see a steep street — unlike any in New York — angling up into the distance, lined by those short buildings. Downtown, of course, could be any American city with its tall buildings and spare sunlight.

[N.B. Hard as it is, I am resisting the temptation to edit now what I wrote then.] I did note the oddity having a former maximum security prison be a major tourist attraction, “its name on bumper-stickers and tee-shirts.” And, where else, I wrote, “is the transit system a major tourist attraction.”


Apparently, though, I didn’t actually get to ride the cable cars during that trip: the system was being rehabilitated. That probably accounts for my spending an entire day riding every line the next time I visited the city.


I closed the letter with the hope that someday S. and I would “take a trip out West together. … We could visit here, then drive down the coast to L.A.” S. and I would indeed take that trip a few years later.

And just to continue the theme of nostalgia, guess what I’m doing tonight, thirty years later …





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Around the World, Thirty Years Ago

Thirty years ago today, I embarked a trip around the world. My parents had given me the plane ticket as a present after my college graduation, and I had saved money for expenses out of prize money awarded to my senior thesis on Finnegans Wake and from six months of working as a programmer for IBM. (I used to work as a programer each summer after college. I loved doing something that was different from literary study for a while each year. My father always said that I did the wrong Ph.D.)

The first fourteen weeks of the trip were structured around destinations in Asia and the Middle East where I knew people: a family friend in Beijing, relatives in Pakistan and the Philippines, and a college friend doing a Fulbright in Cairo. Between those major destinations, I would spend a few days in places I simply wanted to visit: Tokyo, Hong Kong, Delhi, Istanbul. The second half of the trip would take place in Europe, where I’d be traveling with my college girlfriend S. and then my sister. Itinerary relatively open, but S. and I would be meeting in Paris.

I’m something of an archivist (or “packrat,” my wife would say), and I’ve recently unearthed two notebooks from the trip (a third, alas, was left in the seat pocket of a train) and digitized all of the slides that I took during the trip. I plan to revisit those materials here in the coming months, reflecting on the trip and the changes that the intervening years have wrought both on me and on the places I visited.


My attitude throughout the trip was that I didn’t have to “see” everything. I considered these visits to be initial forays; I was sure I’d be back in the years to come. Alas, the budget and the work schedule of the graduate student and then a young professor in literary studies didn’t accommodate as much travel as I had hoped. Some places I visited again relatively soon; some I’ve just revisited recently from my current base in Abu Dhabi; and some I’ll be seeing again soon. Many places I have yet to return to. But hey, as the poet said, I still have miles to go before I sleep. With luck, some of those will be frequent flyer miles.

In any case, if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can picture  that massive gray convertible nylon backpack with the internal frame that I schlepped around for those seven months. Thirty years ago today, I had it on my back as I arrived at my first destination: San Francisco. The first entry in the first journal is dated “February 21, 1984.” Tomorrow I’ll revisit it.

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