Just before Thanksgiving, professors at Texas A&M University’s campus in Qatar got an unexpected and unwelcome email: There would be a sweeping reorganization of the campus’s liberal-arts and sciences programs, and faculty in those fields would be moved in instruction-only positions, unable, except in a few cases, to conduct research.
Professors at the engineering-focused outpost, and at Texas A&M’s home campus, pushed back, and university administrators have since said they would “tap on the brakes” of the restructuring plan. A committee will be appointed to study possible changes in Qatar.
Still, the episode offers some core lessons when it comes to international branch campuses, among them:
The tensions between universities and their hosts are inherent in branch campuses. Officials with the Qatar Foundation, Texas A&M’s local partner, have been unequivocal in saying that they did not dictate the change, as have university administrators. “I think it is important to clarify that this is a proposal of the university,” Francisco J. Marmolejo, president of the foundation’s higher-education arm, told me.
Yet, the reorg was precipitated by and with the goal of meeting performance indicators tied to engineering research and local economic impact that were laid out in a new contract between the university and the foundation. Branch campuses are almost always funded by their hosts, experts told me, and when one party holds the purse strings, they can never be truly equal partnerships.