My friend and NYU Abu Dhabi senior Mohammed Omer left this comment on my Facebook in response to my post about NYUAD. Good stuff from a very smart guy:

This is well written and emotive. Big respect for being so honest.

There is social fractionalisation for sure but that’s the product of capitalism my man. That and poverty in the countries where labourers come from.

Heck the country is only 40 years old and is sprinting to reach the levels of development in the traditionally developed countries that look down on it.

Maybe we should judge with the perspective of the centuries of slavery and colonial rape that built the United States, The United Kingdom and the other places at the top of the food chain that are home to the people condemning some admittedly poor working conditions in the Emirates.

It’s companies from Western nations that act as the architects, contractors and consultants to projects in the UAE and often they are just given a budget of $X Billion and told to get it done. They then cut corners to save profits for those at the top at the expense of their labor. So blame isn’t as square as it seems.

As a senior at NYUAD, sure the place is different to my home in the UK and to my family homes in the States, but as somebody with close friends amongst emiratis, I have enjoyed their culture and been hosted by them outside of NYUAD. The imports are mainly for the expats and to secure the country’s status as a centre for business and global culture in the region.

Conditions must improve in many cases but nobody has the right to any kind of moral high ground.



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The Uncomfortable Nature Of NYU Abu Dhabi

Have you ever been somewhere where things didn’t feel quite right? Perhaps you had a vague sense of unease or a growing discomfort about being there, like if you were at a party with the wrong crowd. I know this feeling very well.

I was employed at NYU Abu Dhabi from August 2011 until May 2012. I was working as a “Global Academic Fellow” as a freshly minted graduate of NYU in New York. My job title was a bit frothier than my actual responsibilities, which largely consisted of teaching assistant work in various capacities. I helped students become better writers, taught economics recitations, and generally tried to offer some insight from an older student perspective (all of the students at the time were freshmen and sophomores).

I truly enjoy teaching and have continued as a tutor now that I am back in the United States. But I won’t hide the fact that I took the job for reasons other than the job description. I saw a chance to get a great, short-term job (contracted for one school year) within my university. The benefits package was outstanding — plentiful vacation time, a good salary, and fully covered room and board. More than anything, I could live abroad for a year with an income that enabled me to explore a part of the world I hadn’t yet seen.

In the previous year, I had already been engaging with NYU Abu Dhabi, but in a much different way. As the editor of NYU Local, an independent student news publication, I had been critical of the university’s position in Abu Dhabi as the UAE government cracked down on free speech from prominent academics.

That crackdown continued while I was in Abu Dhabi and hasn’t slowed since I left. An American man was just sentenced to a year in prison for making a YouTube parody video.

NYUAD students had seen my writing, and when I was being interviewed for the job, I was warned about some students being a bit hostile towards me. I was also questioned about my interest in taking the job — was I trying to do some sort of exposé?

That was not the case. I had heard enough good things about the student body that I really did want to be involved. I was persauded by John Sexton’s points that NYU could act as a way to start to shift the attitudes of the gulf leaders, leading to more democratic ideals and increasing free speech.

Certainly, my experience on campus was little different from what I would have experienced back in New York. Discussion in classrooms was lively and uncensored. Students tended to avoid talking about the troubling politics of the region in the classes I was in, but we sure talked about it a lot amongst staff. Internet access was unrestricted (even if there was an unsettling knowledge that everything was being monitored by Tamkeen, a sort-of watchdog intermediary between the university and the government).

I watched porn, read global newspapers (not the censored fluff coming out of the National, the UAE’s local paper), and traveled freely.

But that sense of unease was there right from the start. I was among the elite in Abu Dhabi, not in the sense of being an oil billionaire like some of the Emiratis, but in the sense that I lived in a beautiful high rise studio apartment, had rights granted to me that weren’t bestowed on the vast majority of the local population, and earned a salary that enabled me not to think twice about buying $9 pints of beer at the hotel bars.

The students were, on the whole, great. I met intelligent young men and women from all over the world, got roasted playing soccer with them, and enjoyed teaching them. Many of the professors I worked with are still friends and the university seems poised to graduate some great kids this year.

But that dread lingered. How nice it was to enjoy the constant air conditioning and eat unlimited buffet food. But right outside the door there were literally thousands of Pakistanis, Nepalese, Indians, Filipinos, and other migrant workers slaving in hard, physical labor for a pittance. The disconnect between the wealthy Emiratis and Westerners and the working class was truly unlike anything I’ve seen.

The huge majority of the population in the UAE are these migrant laborers, building the vast skyscrapers, luxury villas, six star hotels, and other playgrounds for the wealthy. There’s nothing inherently wrong about the UAE’s love for opulence, but it is like living in a bifurcated city. On the streets, you see the workers, eating in their own restaurants. You never see Emiratis.

And those workers are the lucky ones, the ones with small businesses and time to spare. There are thousands more shuttled around outside of the public eye, living in labor camps and working long, difficult hours on construction projects on Saadiyat Island, the location of NYU’s soon-to-be permanent campus.

This place is devoid of real culture. The art? Imported. The music? Global pop stars performing lifelessly on tours.

Honestly, the local culture feels more authentic when you’re eating delicious Pakistani food in a hole in the wall restaurant at a fraction of the price of a “gourmet” restaurant.

I am surprised that the NYUAD students can comfortably live in that country for four years. I had to leave. The highlights of my 10 month appointment were in my travels outside of the UAE. Rock climbing on the Omani coast, partying in Beirut, exploring Istanbul.

As much as I would have loved to spend another year traveling, I couldn’t justify another year in Abu Dhabi. That is not an indictment of the university or the students there. They are very bright and many — if not most — will go on to do some great things.

But can they shed the entitlement? I took a group of students on a UAE tour for Spring Break — we stayed in luxury resorts and ate amazing meals. All for free. (What’s funny is that I remember the more mundane parts of that trip more fondly, like having our bus get stuck in the desert sand and having to try to dig it out.)

Almost everything is free for the NYUAD students. Tuition, housing, food, travel. Many students take advantage of their trips home by stopping in exotic places for a quick vacation. The airfare is covered.

It is undeniably amazing that poor students from far flung countries can get the kind of education that they get at NYUAD for free. But, for many, is the culture doing more harm than good? What do you learn from getting everything handed to you and living in a country where you are literally given rights others don’t get?

It made me uncomfortable. It still does. Did I sell out? Were the gilded benefits of my job tamping down my earlier criticism of the Abu Dhabi campus?

I was moved to write this piece — the first writing I’ve done about my experience there since taking the job — because of this Guardian exposé. Read it for yourself. Migrant workers are living in truly terrible conditions as they work long hours in brutal weather for very little money.

I saw this all around me. The UAE government says they’re trying to fix this. They show promotional videos of some luxurious labor camps. But that is not the reality for many of the young men working in the country.

NYU has said they are independently monitoring the conditions of the workers. (Certainly, those I saw working directly with students (i.e. kitchen staff, janitors, etc.) at NYUAD were being treated fairly.) But what do I see right upon opening up the article? The journalist followed a bus back from the NYU job site and saw men packed ten to a room, cooking in a grimy kitchen. Couldn’t some of the many millions of dollars being poured into the NYUAD project be diverted to giving these people a proper salary and decent place to live?

Watch this video from the Guardian (can’t embed iframes here).

How can this be happening?

I am tired of hearing about “cultural relativism” and arguments about these workers choosing to come to Abu Dhabi. You don’t have to read far in the Guardian piece to see that workers are not always making decisions of their own volition.

This exploitation is FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG and it is truly upsetting to see NYU Abu Dhabi allowing this to happen on their campus. Is it really worth it? Does NYU so desperately need to become a “global leader” in education that they are willing to compromise on basic values in order to get a glitzy campus paid for by someone else?

I am, of course, implicated in this. I worked and lived there, and as much as I can try to tell myself otherwise, I participated in the debauchery of the wealthy elite. Fine dining, partying, globehopping. It was fun, I was comfortable, but I knew I had to get the hell out.

I am not the only one. I find it hard to imagine that NYU Abu Dhabi will have a lot of success at landing standing faculty. Many of the professors I worked with have already left. In the economics courses, some professors would come for just nine weeks (surely being paid lavishly for their time). It’s tough for students to connect to professors when they leave halfway through the semester.

It takes someone with a stronger stomach than me to live there for years. That’s not to say there aren’t great people doing great work in Abu Dhabi, but a lot of people are just floating along earning a lot of money and just looking the other way.

I am still very hopeful for the NYU campus there; I think the people working on the project are very interested in seeing students succeed. The campus is about to graduate its first Rhodes scholar, an impressive distinction for such a young university.

Perhaps over time the “values” of Western education can start to permeate in the UAE. But that sounds more like lip service rationalizing of having a campus there. This is a walled garden for elite students — a tiny Vatican in the center of a greedy, laissez faire country.

For Abu Dhabi, I think this is just another imported Western “brand” — they are also bringing in the Guggenheim and the Louvre. Is it about having great art and education? Or is it about one upping the rest of the gulf countries and becoming more “respected?”

The students vigorously defend their school, as I’m sure I would if I attended. But perhaps they, too, have that little bit of unease about being there and being showered with free everything.

Can the ones who are uncomfortable with the treatment of workers stand up and say something? In class, sure. But in the newspaper? In the public sphere? Can they protest the government or even their own university?

All I can tell you is that I wouldn’t have written this if I was still living in Abu Dhabi.

Note: This may be upsetting to former NYU and NYU Abu Dhabi associates and colleagues. I want to be clear that I think the work being put in by NYU staff, faculty, and students is excellent and worthy of praise. But there needs to be a higher standard of treatment for the laborers working on this project — I hope this helps make that a reality.


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AUDL Levies $20,000 In Fines On Constitution

Hi: This story and a lot more can now be found at Ultiworld, my new Ultimate disc news website. Please stop by and check out the digs. Thanks.

The Connecticut Constitution announced this morning in a newsletter that they have been informed by the American Ultimate Disc League that they must pay $10,000 for each game they missed during their suspension. The penalties are due to the two teams affected — Kentucky and Indianapolis.

Bryan Ricci, the owner of the Constitution, told Ultiworld that the league said the team could resume play once they “sign promissory notes for $10,000” to both KY and IN. “There’s no way I’m going to pay $20,000 to anyone,” added Ricci, calling the fines “severe and excessive.”

The announcement, which has not been made official by the league, further exacerbates the tension between the two parties, who are fighting a legal battle.

The odds of a settlement seem to be decreasing. Ricci said that the team’s lawyers have not heard from league lawyers since last Friday. The team has until Tuesday to officially respond to the courts about the lawsuit.

Speaking about a scenario in which the two parties go to trial, Ricci said, “The odds are in our favor. The question is, how much do we spend to make it get there?”

The remainder of the Constitution’s season — and their playoff berth — are in jeopardy. If Ricci refuses to pay the fine and the league stands firm, the Constitution will not play again.

The Constitution will still hold an event this weekend, but their scheduled game against the Detroit Mechanix is cancelled. The league has not responded to requests for comment.

Disclosure: My friend and college roommate Husayn Carnegie plays for the Constitution.


This coverage is a product of Ultiworld, a new Ultimate disc news website that will be launching soon. More details will follow, but for now, please feel free to email me ( with tips, questions, comments, or rants. Andfollow me on Twitter.


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AUDL Boston Franchise Purchased By League Official And Detroit Owner After Controversial Vote

Brent Steepe

Hi: This story and a lot more can now be found at Ultiworld, my new Ultimate disc news website. Please stop by and check out the digs. Thanks.

New information about the American Ultimate Disc League’s Boston franchise – set to open next year – adds an additional wrinkle to the current legal dispute between the league and the Connecticut Constitution/Rhode Island Rampage.

The Boston territory is one (along with New York) that is being challenged by the CT and RI teams under their Territory Licensing Agreement barring new franchises within 100 miles of their own. The disagreement led to the League filing suit against those franchises.

Multiple team sources said that Boston has been sold to Brent Steepe, the owner of the Detroit Mechanix franchise as well as the Vice President of Marketing for the AUDL.

What has other teams fuming is how that came to pass.

In March, Josh Moore, the President of the AUDL, raised a team vote on the issue of whether or not to allow owners to have financial interests in multiple teams. “That vote ended up in a 4-4 tie with Mr. Steepe voting to approve,” said Bryan Ricci, Owner of the Connecticut Constitution. “The tiebreaker [in favor] was submitted by the President.” Other team sources confirmed this account.

However, Moore had provisionally sold the Boston territory to Steepe months before, sources said. That was never explained to the teams prior to the vote. “Steepe should not have even voted and the league should have made us all aware that the territory was already sold,” said Ricci.

The bylaws of the League do not require voting members to recuse themselves in situations where they may have a conflict of interest.

Steepe’s dual role as a league official and team owner – particularly of the Boston franchise – complicates the legal situation. Boston has a strong Ultimate community and is an obvious location for expansion. Now the league not only has an interest in ensuring Boston becomes a franchise to improve the league itself but has also a long-term financial incentive through Steepe’s ownership.

Steepe has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Photo via Detroit Mechanix.

Disclosure: My friend and college roommate Husayn Carnegie plays for the Constitution.


This coverage is a product of Ultiworld, a new Ultimate disc news website that will be launching soon. More details will follow, but for now, please feel free to email me ( with tips, questions, comments, or rants. And follow me on Twitter.

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Connecticut Constitution Resume Operations, Optimistic About Legal Settlement

Hi: This story and a lot more can now be found at Ultiworld, my new Ultimate disc news website. Please stop by and check out the digs. Thanks.

UPDATE: The league has cancelled this weekend’s matchup between the Connecticut Constitution and the Detroit Mechanix. Details to follow.

Earlier today, the Connecticut Constitution resumed operations after nearly a week off the field after being sued by the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL). The team, a franchise of the AUDL, said in a statement that they will “continue to negotiate with the league on several outstanding issues,” but are resuming play in “good faith” that a compromise will be reached.

John Korber, the General Manager and Coach of the team, said that “there was a lot of dialogue between the owners and the league in the last couple of days” that led up to a decision to resume play. “None of the owners wants to be an obstacle that leads to the missing of games,” he added. “We want to make it clear that we’re trying to get games played.”

It is unclear whether progress has been made towards resolving the legal dispute, which is being discussed in private emails between team and league lawyers. Korber expressed optimism that there would be a settlement at some point, but had no time frame in mind.

The team said in an earlier statement that the cost of fighting the lawsuit “depleted [their] operational funds.”

The President of the AUDL, Josh Moore, suggested in an interview that the Constitution will need to rectify the “financial harm on both [Indianapolis] and Kentucky.” Korber said that earlier this week the league said “there would be fines due by teams that forfeit,” but has allowed the teams to self-determine appropriate penalties. The league has not spoken further on the situation and has not responded to a request for comment.

The Constitution (9-5) is set to face the Detroit Mechanix (6-8) on Saturday in New Bristol.

Disclosure: My friend and college roommate Husayn Carnegie plays for the Constitution.


This coverage is a product of Ultiworld, a new Ultimate disc news website that will be launching soon. More details will follow, but for now, please feel free to email me ( with tips, questions, comments, or rants. And follow me on Twitter.


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Pro Ultimate Disc League Faces Criticism After Suing Its Own Team

Hi: This story and a lot more can now be found at Ultiworld, my new Ultimate disc news website. Please stop by and check out the digs. Thanks.

UPDATE: The Constitution have resumed operations. The team said in a statement that they will “continue to negotiate with the league on several outstanding issues.”

UPDATE II: Some further details about the Constitution resuming play.

UPDATE III (7/12): The league has cancelled this weekend’s matchup between the Connecticut Constitution and the Detroit Mechanix. Details to follow.

In its first year as a professional sports league, the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) is suddenly facing a crisis. Last Thursday, one of the league’s eight teams – the Connecticut Constitution – abruptly suspended their operations freshly off clinching a playoff berth, after the AUDL sued the team for blocking the sale of a New York City franchise for the upcoming season. While the situation is embarrassing for the young League, the real issues at stake actually run much deeper. What appears to be just a contractual dispute is rooted in dissatisfaction about the league management that raises questions about the long-term viability of the AUDL’s current structure.


The path to this lawsuit began in May, when the AUDL front office informed team owners about confirmed new franchises for next year’s season. Among those announced were New York and Boston, two ultimate hotbeds on the east coast and obvious locations for franchises. However, the Connecticut and Rhode Island franchises, pointing to a small clause in their contract with the League, cried foul. That clause, the Territory License Agreement (TLA), says that no new franchises can be started within 100 miles of their own. New York and Boston both fall within the teams’ respective radii.

The two sides began discussions, but didn’t get far. “We tried to get resolve and in our frustration threatened to get lawyers,” said Bryan Ricci, the owner of the Constitution. “So to protect their interests [the AUDL] filed a suit.”

That suit, according to Josh Moore, the President of the AUDL, is “to request judgment as to their radius being enforceable given that they had agreed to the teams previously.” The AUDL stressed in their press release that the owners had verbally consented to New York and Boston franchises in the past. Ricci, who called the lawsuit a “Mickey Mouse move,” disputes that, saying that “we talked generally about where we want locations – there were a lot of conversations.”

However, the terms of the contract are not in dispute. The AUDL included in their initial press release that “[the owners’] purchase agreements do indicate that no new teams, beyond what we agreed to at the start, may be placed within a 100 mile radius,” which they later deleted without explanation.

“The AUDL is absolutely wrong, it’s clear cut,” said Thom Held, the owner of the Indianapolis Alleycats franchise. “There is absolutely no legal room on this.”

Moore responded to questions with a short statement: “We’ve made sure this issue will not be repeated with any of our other territories or expansion plans. Our owners can agree to teams within their territory, which is what Connecticut had previously done and agreed to before they later changed their mind.”

This argument – even if the League produced evidence of Ricci making a verbal agreement to allow a New York team – would be difficult to defend in court. In contract cases, verbal testimony generally cannot be used to contradict the explicit terms of a signed contract. That is, even if Ricci consented to a New York team – which he says he never did – before signing the contract, that would be inadmissible in court in most cases.

However, the owners could still agree to allow the new franchises. But Ricci sees the territory as his to develop as he sees fit. “It’s never been a contention that New York and Boston are bad places to be, maybe we should be there,” he said. “But it’s my territory and I chose to start in Connecticut.” He noted that forty percent of his players come from the New York metro area and added that no major sports league has a Connecticut team with a New York team next door.

Ricci is willing to settle if he gets everything – the lawsuit withdrawn, the new franchises dropped, and the AUDL reimbursing him for legal fees. But he cautiously suggests that he is open to negotiation: “I think I have something valuable and if they want to keep one or both of [the new franchises], they have to compensate me for them.”

That kind of arrangement would not be unprecedented. Though the League would not confirm this, Ricci and other sources say that the Philadelphia Spinners franchise was compensated for both the New Jersey and New York expansions (which fall in their radius). Surprisingly, that agreement, negotiated between Philly and the league, was allegedly made after Connecticut and Rhode Island raised the issue of the territory infringement, but prior to the lawsuit. That, if true, would explain some of the anger directed at the league by Ricci and the Constitution. [Philadelphia has yet to respond to requests for comment].

In an online message board for Ultimate players, one commenter suggested that the dispute is in some ways encouraging, since both sides are “willing to pony up and go to bat to defend their side.” Similarly, John Korber, the General Manager and Coach of the Constitution, said that it has become clear that “spectator ultimate is not an impossibility. People who know nothing about Ultimate are willing to pay five, ten, or fifteen dollars to watch it.” Average attendance at Constitution home games has been around 500; Philly and Indianapolis get even more.

But in many ways the current situation is lose-lose. Although the financial details aren’t clear, it’s hard to imagine either side wants (or can afford) a drawn out court battle. Korber expects the league to settle and says that the current dispute “is not a commentary on spectator ultimate, it’s a commentary on how the AUDL is run.”

The ongoing situation does not help matters. The Constitution’s decision to suspend operations has already caused lost revenue and the cancellation of some games, including a charity event in Indianapolis. Moore said in an interview yesterday that “[the Constitution’s] decision not to play puts financial harm on both Indy and Kentucky that needs to be rectified before they can rejoin the league.” However, Held – Indy’s owner – puts the blame on the League’s front office, even calling Moore’s choice to file suit “the worst decision of his life.”

It is strange to see a professional sports league suing one of its own teams. Most leagues are structured with the team owners or a Board of Directors electing a President or Commissioner to handle front office issues like rules, league expansion, etc. In the AUDL, prospective franchise owners pay the League for the right to play in it, but little else. There have been frequent complaints from players and owners about issues including marketing, sponsorship, profit sharing, insurance, and rule enforcement – the day-to-day operational issues that confront the teams, all of which face tight budgets.

Korber says that AUDL isn’t thinking about that. The League’s incentive, he claims, is to sell more franchises and not to deal with “policies that increase the value of the current teams.” Of course, the owners want to increase the value of their team. “The realities of those incentives have created a completely disjointed operation,” said Korber. He went further, suggesting that you could “effectively see the League as a Ponzi scheme” that sells franchises but does not worry about creating a sustainable league.

Because of this, Korber expects to see a very different League as early as next year. He thinks the current eight owners will either buy out Moore, find a way to put some elective board into place along the lines of Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League, or leave the League and form their own.

What complicates everything is that the AUDL has already sold eight new franchises for next season and twelve for the year after. But two of those, and two of Ultimate’s biggest markets, New York and Boston, aren’t in any way a sure thing.

In an ideal world, this lawsuit offers an opportunity for the owners and the League to discuss how to move forward. There is no question that some of the teams have already begun to build strong brands and fan bases – it seems foolish to jeopardize that. The real issue right now? In the words of Ricci, “It’s not about Ultimate, [and] that’s what we’d like it to be about.” On that, everyone agrees.

Disclosure: My friend and college roommate Husayn Carnegie plays for the Constitution.


This article is the first effort of Ultiworld, a new Ultimate disc news organization that will be launching soon. More details will follow, but for now, please feel free to email me ( with tips, questions, comments, or rants. And follow me on Twitter.


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Elevator Etiquette

I posted the following on the intranet site here at NYUAD, accessible to faculty, staff, and students. Pretty tongue-in-cheek (which some students have totally missed, sending me annoyed emails), but also quite true. We’ll see what happens. Hoping for max troll impact.


The following is a public service announcement about proper elevator use throughout the Global Network University.

Hello, Sama Tower residents. Each day we commute from our apartments and dorm rooms to DTC, the dining hall, restaurants, Al Safa, and — sorry for these folks — the CSE labs. Considering that we all live on floors six and above, that means frequent elevator rides for everyone.

As such, we should strive to maximize the efficiency of our collective travels up and down the building. I have seen some less than optimal performance lately, so I would like to suggest the following be adopted at NYUAD:

If you are on the elevator and someone presses a button one floor from yours (i.e. if you live on floor 7 and your friend presses 8), you shall not press the button for your floor. Instead, get out, take the stairs one flight, and go on your way.


First of all, it is a big time saver for those on higher floors on full elevators. Perhaps more importantly, the psychological health of those living on floor 17 forced to wait for stops at floors 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12 is severely at risk.

Also, if you violate Elevator Etiquette at NYU in New York, people will cough, sigh, say things like “you serious?” under their breath, and generally disrespect you, as you feel their glares piercing into the back of your head. Do you want to be “that guy?”


There are exceptions to EE. You are exempt in the following circumstances:

– You are carrying heavy items

– You are unable to take the stairs (e.g. broken leg)

– You are on the elevator with just one friend, and you want to troll them


Public shaming of those in violation of EE is often enough. Double clicking their illegal floor selection to undo it is also a viable option. Be creative.


If we all start following proper EE, we will save time, get a little more exercise, and generally become better people.

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