Inspiring Journalist, Teacher, Middle East Expert Died At 46 in 2018

I never actually met Matt Duffy, but we exchanged several emails in 2011. I was amazed by what he was able to accomplish in teaching freedom of the press at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 2010 through 2012, during the short-lived Arab Spring, as chronicled on his blog Mattjduffy.com and his Twitter account https://twitter.com/mattjduffy.  They are full of journalistic idealism, insights into teaching media, intelligence about the Middle East. And as of the summer of 2019, he was still receiving inspiring comments from his network, though he died in early 2018.

In 2012, he was suddenly terminated from his job as a communications professor at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, by a higher authority above the university, presumably state security (despite excellent evaluations), for no reason given. A believer in transparency, he immediately went public with the story on his blog, trying to ferret out what happened, and in The Chronicle of Higher Education, asking “Why Was I Fired At Zayed University?” He was written up in The New York Times in 2013: Teaching the Limits of Media Freedom Is Tricky in the Gulf.

This was at a time when Zayed University was seeking US accreditation and the prestige of recognition that it could meet Western communication standards on things like freedom of the press.

Duffy accomplished remarkable things during his two brief years at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, as his colleague David Bulla chronicled in this tribute for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Quill Magazine. Click to read and be inspired.

I attended his memorial service near Atlanta, GA in 2018. Photo essay. Attendees were asked to post brief notes to Matt on a board. There were so so many. “Matt, you were a truth-teller. Damn the consequences!” was mine.

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Matt Duffy at Federal National Council elections in Abu Dhabi, UAE in 2011. 

Dr. Duffy worked at Zayed University at a time, 2010-12, when the United States still believed in the concept of nation-building in the Middle East, the possibility that democracy could be taught, learned and welcomed.

I was hired to replace Duffy in teaching media law and other communications courses in 2013, and continued to do so until 2017. Zayed University had a very different environment by then. Good things were still possible, but risk-taking was definitely out. But that’s another story.

Drill Deeper: 

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