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The New York Times has published a brief letter that I wrote in response to an op-ed piece entitled “The War in Washington Square” by my NYU colleague Jeff Goodwin, who is a professor of sociology.

Here’s the text of my letter as they published it:

I have been working on the N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi project with N.Y.U. colleagues from different disciplines since 2008. I continue to be impressed by these colleagues’ idealistic purpose; they are dedicated to the belief that education is our best means for fostering a constructive dialogue between the United States and the Arab and Islamic worlds, which is crucial in the century ahead. That dialogue may not be easy, but dialogue between parties who don’t entirely share one another’s views never is.

I am grateful to John Sexton for making N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi happen. My colleague Jeff Goodwin is correct that “it is doubtful that faculty members would have chosen to build” the Abu Dhabi campus. Refusing this chance to engage in dialogue would have been a profound mistake.

CYRUS R. K. PATELL
Abu Dhabi, March 21, 2013

The writer is associate dean of humanities at N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi.

The letter appears with three other letters under the headline “N.Y.U.’s President: Visionary or Autocrat“? The other letters are by Martin Lipton, the chairman of NYU’s board of trustees (reiterating the board’s support of President Sexton and his initiatives for NYU’s growth); by a 1970 alumna (opposed to the creation of a campus in the UAE because the country doesn’t recognize the state of Israel); and by a more recent grad (thanking Sexton for “improving [his] alma mater”).

The published text of my letter is an edited version of what I sent to them. I did approve their changes. Here’s the original version (omitted phrases in bold):

To the Editor:

Re: “The War in Washington Square” (opinion, 20 March 2013)

I have been working on the NYU Abu Dhabi project since 2008. Collaborating with NYU colleagues from different disciplines to put together this new liberal arts college has been the most rewarding service work I have ever done.

I continue to be impressed by these colleagues’ sense of idealistic purpose; they are dedicated to the belief that education is our best means for fostering a constructive dialogue between the US and the Arab and Islamic worlds, which is a crucial task in the century ahead. That dialogue may not be easy, but dialogue between parties who don’t entirely share one another’s views never is.

I am grateful to President Sexton for making NYU Abu Dhabi happen. My colleague Jeff Goodwin is correct to assert that “it is doubtful that faculty members would have chosen to build” the Abu Dhabi campus. Refusing this chance to engage in dialogue would have been a profound mistake.

Reasonably similar, though I regret the loss of the sentence “Collaborating with NYU colleagues from different disciplines to put together this new liberal arts college has been the most rewarding service work I have ever done.” Because it has been.

The Times generally imposes a limit of 150 words on letters to the editor. That’s no easy task for an academic in the humanities: we sneeze and 150 words come out. Here’s my first draft, twice the required length:

I am in my twentieth year as a faculty member at NYU and have been working on the NYU Abu Dhabi project since 2008, when I joined  the “Humanities Coordinating Group” that was putting together the initial Humanities curriculum and hiring the first group of Humanities faculty. I was invited to serve because of my interest in undergraduate education and my ongoing scholarly and pedagogical work on cosmopolitanism. Most professors hate serving on university committees, but working with my colleagues from different disciplines to put together a new liberal arts college for the twenty-first century was the most rewarding service work I had ever done at NYU. I was impressed then — and continue to be impressed now — by the sense of idealistic purpose motivating those involved with the project. NYU Abu Dhabi has given me the chance to work with some very, very smart people, all dedicated to the belief that constructive dialogue between the US and the Arab and Islamic worlds is a crucial task for the twenty-first century and that education is our best means for fostering that dialogue. That dialogue isn’t easy, but then dialogue between parties who don’t entirely share one another’s views never is. And those are the kind of dialogues that are the most crucial to have.

Those of us who have helped to build NYU Abu Dhabi, whether presently based in New York or in Abu Dhabi, are grateful to President Sexton for making the NYU Abu Dhabi initiative happen. My New York colleague Jeff Goodwin, with whom I once served on an undergraduate curriculum committee for the College of Arts and Science, is no doubt correct to assert that  “it is doubtful that faculty members would have chosen to build campuses in countries where academic freedom, and free speech generally, are so parlous.” And that would have been a truly regrettable missed opportunity, not only for NYU, but for the United States.

Cyrus R. K. Patell;
Associate Professor of English, NYU
Associate Dean of Humanities, NYU Abu Dhabi

In the end, though, I think I like the unedited short version the best. Special thanks to my in-house editor, who helped me trim the first draft to the required length.

[The graphic above is by Alex Nabaum and appeared online with the four letters.]