Newly obtained documents from Texas A&M University paint a grim portrait of low morale and lack of leadership at the school’s satellite location in Doha, Qatar.
Texas A&M is one of a handful of American universities and colleges operating in Qatar’s Education City. Funded by the Qatar Foundation, Education City is designed to export American higher education to the Middle East. Other institutions in Education City include Cornell, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern and Virginia Commonwealth.
Problems obtaining immigration status, inequities in hiring practices and low morale are a few of the grievances Qatar-based faculty members relayed to TAMU administration through a 2009 survey.
Selected survey responses were compiled and released after a Texas Public Information Act filing by the student group Texas A&M Aggie Conservatives. The Aggie Conservatives provided the released documents to the Gulf News Journal.
In a 2010 survey of TAMU faculty members, more than 45 percent reported they “often think about quitting” their job. Faculty members also reported they do not feel their “department/unit climate to be supportive."
That survey included input from faculty members in both Texas and Qatar. Details about why nearly half of TAMU’s faculty members feel so negatively about the university are enumerated in selected survey responses from the year before.
One faculty member wrote TAMU Qatar faces “lack of clear, articulated vision and effective leadership.”
“TAMUQ’s direction seems to be to recreate TAMU without any consideration of Qatar and student needs,” the faculty member continued. “Everything involves getting research money, without much consideration that Qatar didn't build Education City and TAMUQ primarily to give research money to ex-pat faculty.”
The faculty member wrote that TAMU Qatar needed to find a balance between teaching and research.
Other faculty members cited problems with administration at TAMU in Qatar, saying some decision-making could be considered “disrespectful” to faculty members in the Middle East.
“Somehow the administration is coming out as an entity that does not trust and value the faculty community,” a faculty member wrote. “This is bringing moral down. This was not the case before. Something needs to be done to regain the trust and respect both ways.”
The survey also highlighted immigration issues faced by faculty members at TAMU Qatar.
“There seem to be gender issues in Qatar that may also involve nationality,” one faculty member wrote. “Our department has not been effective in providing appropriate immigration status for new faculty. From what I can tell, this is due to inexperience, possibly could also be seen as lack of resources or priority. This is a very real problem. We have already lost one faculty member and stand to lose two more.”
Faculty members from Houston Community College, which recently scaled back its operation in Qatar’s Education City, also claimed to have faced immigration issues. HCC Board of Trustees member Dave Wilson said some of their faculty members were denied entrance to Qatar, based on their religion.
“When we sent faculty over there, there were a couple Jewish faculty members, and they sent them back,” Wilson told Gulf News Journal.
Wilson said faculty members from HCC were also forced to surrender their passports upon arrival.
“They had to give up their passport to the government of Qatar,” Wilson said. “And then in order to leave, they had to ask permission to them to give their passport back.”
Additional grievances filed by TAMU Qatar faculty members include lack of equality when it comes to salaries, the feeling that positions in Qatar are short-term rather than valued tenure positions, and questions about financial improprieties.
Still, one comment showed cautiously optimistic feelings for TAMU Qatar.
“I love working at TAMUQ,” a faculty member wrote. “Opportunities are great. But faculty needs to feel the ownership of the place once again.”
Texas A&M Aggie Conservatives, the student organization that requested the previously classified survey responses, stands strong in its position against the Qatar branch of TAMU.
Former Aggie Conservative Chairman Justin Pulliam spoke with Gulf News Journal about his disdain for the Qatar location – citing the country's ties to terrorism and the lack of freedom of expression that exists in the country.
“The Qatar campus marginalizes the credibility of Texas A&M and the integrity of the engineering diplomas received by College Station graduates,” Pulliam told Gulf News Journal.
Pulliam, a 2011 graduate of TAMU, and the Aggie Conservatives call for the immediate closure of the Qatar campus.
“It’s radical to have a public university campus financially controlled by a private foreign entity unaccountable to the citizens of Texas,” Pulliam said. “The Qatar Foundation has no interest in transparency.”
The Qatar Foundation petitioned the state of Texas into keeping financial documents related to TAMU classified, but a judge ruled against it. The Washington Post filed a public record request in Texas and was granted access to TAMU’s Qatar contract.
According to the contract, TAMU brings in more than $76.2 million per year from its operation in Qatar.