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A&M Faculty Senate discusses recent closing of Qatar campus

A&M-Qatar senators join meeting to share their stories
Screenshot+of+faculty+senate+meeting+on+Monday%2C+Feb.+12%2C+2024.
Screenshot of faculty senate meeting on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024.

Following the announcement of Texas A&M-Qatar’s future closure, the A&M Faculty Senate met with A&M-Qatar senators to share their disappointment. 

On Feb. 8, the A&M Board of Regents voted to close A&M’s branch campus in Qatar by 2028. The closure will be a four-year process to allow current students to finish their degrees. 

Qatar campus Dean and COO Cesar Malave spoke with the Faculty Senate on Monday, Feb. 12 meeting regarding the Board of Regents’ decision.

“Like most of you, I am very disappointed by the decision of the Board of Regents,” Malave said. “But at this point, I have to look at the future and how we are going to continue to support our students.”

Malave said even though this decision was disheartening, the campus looks to support students throughout the next four years and help them finish their degrees with the same academic standards. However, Malave voiced concerns about how the transition would affect current faculty, staff and students, since many faculty gave up their jobs in College Station to go to Qatar.

“People are anxious, people are upset, but I will be there and listening to all of them,” Malave said. “I am also upset … I feel responsible and I have to make sure this is a fair decision. That we continue to deliver a top education and that we take care of our faculty and we take care of our staff.”

Malave ended his presentation by asking faculty members not to disconnect from the Qatar campus and its current staff.

“We have four years and those of you have been helping me and you know this,” Malave said. “The fact that we only have four more years … keep helping us and our students.”

A&M Qatar faculty senators gave prepared presentations about their own opinions and spoke for the students and other faculty members of the Qatar campus.

United States history professor Brittany Bounds said this decision was an emotional rollercoaster for herself and all of the other faculty at the Qatar campus.

“We are devastated,” Bounds said. “We have endured waves of COVID[-19], reorganization under the last president that stripped us of the prestige we have worked so hard for, and now the ultimate insult in closing down our campus. The students have checked in on the faculty and staff to make sure we are OK. 

“In classrooms and hallways, they have voiced how sad, angered and betrayed they feel,” Bounds said. “They are afraid they won’t be able to graduate, won’t have the true college experience with the skeleton crew in their last years and, most importantly, that their degree will be devalued and worthless on the job market.”

Bounds said the Qatar campus’ research had made many advancements in the last few years, yet the successful programs were being shut down without asking the students or faculty for their opinions.

“Many institutions would make great sacrifices to be here,” Bounds said. “Sadly, [A&M]’s stake in this enterprise is being thrown away for no clear gain and at a great cost to the Aggie family of students, staff and faculty. We have worked for years to become the leader in the multi-university initiative across the Qatar Foundation working with other universities to collaborate, network and educate students from other peer universities.”

Bounds said this decision could greatly impact the current staff who are currently living and working in Qatar if they end up being let go with little time to move. 

“It is impossible to leave Qatar in 30 days, selling our car, wrapping up bank accounts and ending housing contracts and repatriation are all long processes,” Bounds said. “… But many, if most, don’t want to leave here … In contrast to the rumors and misperceptions of this country, Qatar has been welcoming, hospitable, extremely safe, prosperous and has offered us opportunities not available in the U.S.”

Another Qatar campus faculty senator, engineering professor Mohammad Albakri, said he had the same feelings of disappointment that Bounds expressed. 

“I must express my disappointment and deep concerns regarding the decision to close our Qatar campus by 2028,” Albakri said. “It is unfair to let unfounded allegations go unchallenged, especially when they affect the livelihoods and future of countless individuals.”

Albkari said he was especially concerned with the nature of the town hall that was held on Sunday, which was an open-forum for students and faculty of the Qatar and College Station campuses to express their opinions on the Board of Regents decision. 

“The town hall meeting held on Sunday was meant to serve as a platform for discussion and the exchange of ideas, however, it fell short of this goal — resembling more of a one-way broadcast than a collaborative dialogue,” Albakri said. 

In the future, Albakri said the university and the Board of Regents needed to provide more transparency in the decision-making process for the decision to end the Qatar campus partnership.

“It is essential that our community feels heard and valued for ample opportunities for interaction and feedback,” Albakri said. “… By fostering an environment of open dialogue, the voices of all stakeholders are considered and that decisions are made with the best interest of our community in mind. Students, staff and faculty deserve a voice in shaping the future of our academic community.”

After Dean Malave and faculty senators Albakri and Bounds finished speaking, there were opportunities for questions to be fielded to them and to A&M Provost Alan Sams, who was also present.

First, Faculty Senate Speaker and professor Tracy Hammond said it would be a possibility if the Qatar Foundation would ask A&M to leave before the end of the four years, since it was a two-sided contract.

Malave said this would not happen.

“No, we need to finish our students,” Malave said. “This is part of our contract with the Qatar Foundation … the preliminary conversation with [President of Higher Education at Qatar Foundation] Francisco Marmolejo, there is no desire to say ‘Okay, leave now.’ We will have a good transition.”

Engineering professor Jorge Alvarado asked if the Qatar Foundation and the faculty of the Qatar campus had known that the Board of Regents was going to end the flagship campus at their recent meeting.

“The Qatar Foundation was blindsided and they didn’t know anything about this ‘till the last minute,” Alvarado said. “There were no discussions with them, and we decided to pull the plug on them after 20-plus years and we still don’t know why … Can someone explain that to me, are we going to do that to other potential partners in the future?”

Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and engineering professor N.K. Anand said the Qatar Foundation had some previous knowledge of the situation.

“I don’t know the reason,” Anand said. “But they [Qatar Foundation] were briefed by the President in Washington D.C., approximately one month back, that this is going to be discussed at the Board of Regents.”

Finally, Alvarado asked if there were any plans by the Board of Regents or the A&M system to open another international campus.

“I don’t know of any plans to do that,” Provost Sams said.

After this discussion, the Faculty Senate meeting came to an end after other short announcements. However, some faculty senators said they were hoping to invite the Board of Regents to come to their next meeting to discuss their reasons for closing the Qatar campus. 

Currently, no new information has been provided by the Board of Regents or the A&M System on the decision. 

“We have worked really, really hard,”  Malave said. “2024 was planning to be an outstanding year … We need to continue to provide a high-quality education to our students … [and have] a plan soon on what we are going to do with the staffing, with the faculty. I am committed.”

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Mia Putnam
Mia Putnam, News Writer
Mia Putnam is a junior (a-a-a-whoop!) public health major and masters epidemiology student. She has written for the Batt for over a year now and enjoys writing stories over politics, current student interests, and environmental issues.
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    Gary WassermanFeb 29, 2024 at 12:37 am

    From Qatar to Texas: An American University Retreats

    The undermining of America’s global role is taking place in the unlikely place of College Station, Texas. Here, earlier this month the Board of Regents at Texas A&M ended the 21-year partnership with the Arab Gulf emirate of Qatar that had supported an engineering school (TAMU Qatar) at the multi-university campus of Education City. It may be a forewarning of things to come as this country becomes increasingly uncomfortable with its multiple involvements overseas.

    The abrupt decision canceling an existing 10-year contract came with no public discussion,
    no input from the Qatar branch or even the American campus, and only one Regent dissenting. One Texas A&M administrator doubts whether any of the Board had even been to Qatar. ‘They had no idea what was going on in Doha,” this source added. Qatar Foundation, the government agency funding the school, complained afterward that they were blindsided. Even the estimated $75 million a year supporting the campus, its faculty and research was not enough. As one professor in Texas put it referring to a recent sports contract buyout, “Hell we paid our football coach $76 million to leave.”

    There had been harassment about the overseas campus, mostly from the right and mostly alleging antisemitism. The conservative legal warriors, Judicial Watch, brought a lawsuit on behalf of a client combating antisemitism that demanded financial disclosures of funds to the University from “terrorist-linked Qatar.” They won the suit when a Texas court supported their claims in March 2023. More recently—some 2 months before the Regents’ vote—another Washington-based rightwing group, ISGAP, The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism & Policy, produced a report accusing Texas A&M of licensing nuclear energy and weapons research to Qatar, implying a connection to arming Hamas for their October 7th attacks on Israel. The University’s president denounced the findings as “false and irresponsible.” But Qatar would later blame this “disinformation campaign” for the Regents’ abrupt decision.

    The Regents themselves dismissed the impact of this report, without quite answering what their motives actually were. The vote for closing their branch was introduced and finalized in less than a minute. Those in Doha most affected by the closure complained that they were left out of this ‘prearranged’ vote. A spokesman for the Board alluded to regional instability and changing institutional priorities. The Board chairman pointed to the core mission of Texas A&M lying in Texas and the United States, which didn’t require a campus 8,000 miles away. The Doha campus was begun in 2003 arguably during a time of even greater regional instability. But it was also begun when Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense was president of Texas A&M. For the current leadership, an overseas branch apparently was no longer relevant to the University’s mission.

    The motivations may be even simpler and, possibly, more superficial. If the Qatar
    Campus, its income and overseas exposure wasn’t that important, any negatives
    would be that much more intolerable. The present Israeli-Hamas conflict brought to the evening news unpleasant issues that could possibly place the University in an awkward position. As one Texas A&M administrator put it, ‘the Harvard thing had an impact’—the president of Harvard losing her position and reputation by being paraded before a congressional committee as an anti-semite was not something conservative Texas leaders would want to repeat. Add to this the prospect of defending support for ‘Arab terrorists’ before MAGA state politicos, and one can imagine that these governor-appointees would look for ways to avoid this scenario. This administrator could imagine regents getting whispers in their ears at their country clubs, “what are you guys doing?”

    Who loses? In the 21 years that TAMU had been in Qatar it has graduated some 1300 engineers, almost 40 % of them women. It’s unclear if this continues. The five other American universities, including Georgetown University Qatar, are the largest group of American schools outside the country. They may feel a bit more precarious. None have announced plans to leave. As to the future of other overseas campuses, one journal tracking higher education ominously headlined ‘The First Domino?’

    This domestic threat to America’s global role in higher education is notable and new. When these universities first arrived in Qatar, (mostly in the early 2000s) memories of 9/11 and the Iraq war were immediate worries. But the threats from the tradition-bound, religious regimes were the focus of concern from the university pioneers shaping this innovative move. Would the local population support liberal education? Could academic freedom survive conservative elites with questionable respect for free speech in their own country? Could women, non-muslim minorities, and untraditional lifestyles common to modern universities be tolerated and supported in a mono-religious society? With some tensions and ongoing pushing and shoving, these questions have generally been resolved in a direction of greater freedom and expanding educational opportunities for the next generation of Arab leaders. The customs and politics of the Middle East have not prevented the successful transplanting of liberal American education. Ties of friendship and learning, and the very real transfer of an American presence, and values, have occurred in the decades of this educational experiment. To the benefit of all concerned.

    Curiously it is now our country’s impulse toward isolationism, with a hint of xenophobia, and the retreat in domestic support for America’s role in the world that endangers this building of bridges between cultures. As that great American cartoon icon, Peanuts, said a while back, “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”

    Gary Wasserman, was a professor of government for 8 years at Georgetown University,Qatar,
    and wrote The Doha Experiment.

    Reply