April 10, 2001

Cornell Opens Medical School in Qatar

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Cornell President Hunter R. Rawlings III has long spoke openly and publicly about the University’s major construction projects underway on North and West campuses. Meanwhile, with cooperation from University officials both in Ithaca and at the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College in New York City, Rawlings quietly oversaw the another campus in development — halfway around the world.

Along with the Qatar Foundation, Cornell announced the creation of the Weill Medical College in Qatar yesterday at a press conference in New York City.

The first medical school students will enter the school in 2002. The medical school curriculum will begin in 2004 and the first degrees will be conferred in 2008. Degrees from the Qatari branch of the Medical College will be wholly equivalent to the degrees given by the New York City school.

“This agreement is a first in Cornell’s 136-year history, and, in fact, a first for U.S. higher education,” Rawlings said to the Cornell News Service.

The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community, which is funding the medical school expansion, was established in 1995 by Sheikh Harnad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar. The establishment of the satellite will cost $750 million over the next 11 years.

According to the New York Times, the medical school’s directors plan to have about 65 faculty members based in Qatar, and to supplement their teaching with courses taught via satellite from the New York City school.

According to Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, negotiations for the Medical College extension began a year and a half ago, when U.S. Reps. Sue Kelly (R-19) and Carolyn Maloney (D-14) visited Qatar to observe the first elections in which women stood for office.

“The wife of the Emir [Al-Thani] spoke with Kelley about developments in education in Qatar,” Dullea said.

Kelley contacted Antonio M. Gotto, Jr. dean of the Medical College, and negotiations followed.

Most of the faculty are expected to be recruited from the medical school and from other New York schools.

Cornell will control the curriculum, the faculty and admissions.

“[The Qatar Foundation] assured us total control of academic programs, admissions, procedure and hiring decisions,” Dullea said.

Cornell will also have complete control over admitting the 50 students who will make up the school’s entering class. The agreement between the University and the Qatar Foundation called for 70 percent of the class to be Qataris, unless there are not enough Qatari applicants to fulfill the requirements for admission.

Since a degree from the school in Qatar will be equivalent to a degree from the New York City school, Cornell will not modify its requirements for admission.

“The Cornell faculty is responsible for review of applications,” Dullea said. “We are guaranteed that students from all over the world can apply, including [from] Israel.”

Despite the political instability in the Persian Gulf region, site of the new medical college, the Cornell administration has assured that the nation is stable and aware of the University’s concerns, according to Dullea.

“Some of our Jewish trustees and alumni were especially concerned,” Rawlings told the New York Times.

Prof. Daniel Alonso, pathology, will serve as dean of the Medical College in Qatar. Alonso served as senior associate dean for academic affairs for the medical school. He has promised to serve as dean until the first class graduates in 2008.

Qatar is a nation of about 700,000 people near Saudi Arabia. About two thirds of its population is made up of expatriates from India, Europe and the U.S. Considered a rapidly developing country, Qatar has been seeking partnerships with several elite universities to establish programs in engineering, information technologies and other growing fields of study.

The partnership with Cornell represents a possible watershed in new development in Qatar — and possibly in an emerging international market for higher education.

“I think after Cornell, the others will follow,” Abdulredha Abdulrahman, the managing director of the Qatar Foundation, told the New York Times.

The Qatar Foundation had also approached the University of Virginia in 1999 to create an undergraduate satellite college. The college’s trustees and Virginia’s State Legislature both approved the move, but the university ultimately dropped the initiative when it became concerned about obtaining proper accreditation for the Qatar satellite.

“There is an excellent clinical facility for a medical school insertion,” Dullea said.

Archived article by Maggie Frank