Northwestern professor raises questions about its branch in Qatar

Northwestern University professor Stephen Eisenman seems to be crying foul, or at least asking questions about the school’s exported journalism program educating students in Qatar.

Northwestern is one of several universities running campuses at a facility called Education City at the outskirts of Doha. Since 2008, the Northwestern campus has been providing instruction in journalism and communications, and has graduated over 137 students.

Eisenman, a long-time faculty member at Northwestern, got interested in the “NU-Q” project. After a visit to the area in January of 2015, Eisenman wrote and published a lengthy report going over the operational facts, and also bringing up key questions about the school’s mission in Qatar, before making some statements that question the basis for the international collaboration.

“The ethics of establishing a campus in an authoritarian country are murky, especially when it inhibits free expression, and counts among its allies several oppressive regimes or groups," he wrote. "In addition, countries that produce enormous amounts of oil and natural gas that increase global CO2, and generate in equal abundance social and racial inequality, justly offend many. But those characteristics describe the United States no less than Qatar and don’t prevent Northwestern from maintaining campuses in Evanston and Chicago.”

In an interview with the Washington Post published in December of last year, Eisenman talked about things like censorship and human rights violations in Qatar that hamper the efforts of the American universities to maintain a presence there.

“I believe they make the operation of the university untenable now.” Eisenman said, speaking about censorship and limits on freedom of expression. "Teaching journalism as an enterprise in which you must first learn not to ask, is no kind of journalism instruction at all…should we pull out? Yes, if we can’t be assured that students and faculty can investigate and report what they want without fear of arrest or expulsion.”

Eisenman also offered a contingent justification for proceeding with the program.
“If we do receive assurances of increasing freedom of thought and movement in Qatar, then NU-Q should make sure the program there has value for [Northwestern in Evanston] and [Northwestern in Chicago] by creating a strong, innovative and well-funded program in Middle Eastern and North African Studies….in its current form, the program is not legitimate or defensible.”

In response to questions from the Gulf News Journal about the NU-Q program, Northwestern sent the following statement: “The NU-Q Program has been very successful and we are proud of the work our students, faculty and graduates are accomplishing. As you know the University recently extended our contract with the Qatar Foundation and will continue its important program.”

Northstwestern’s media department declined to provide comment on Eisenman's questions, as well as on the benefits and challenges of running NU-Q. Calls and e-mails to Everette E. Dennis, the active Dean of the program, were not returned.

The issue of Northwestern and other universities operating in Education City is not one that's going away soon, but one that will continue to foster a vibrant debate about the relationships that should be in place in promoting international education, free globalist class movement and other aspects of a global community.



Organizations in this story

Qatar Foundation 1400 I St NW Doha, Doha - 20005

Get notified the next time we write about Qatar Foundation!
Top