April 11, 2001

Qatari Medical College Draws Close Attention

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Members of the Cornell community began spreading the word about Cornell’s move to open a branch of its medical college in Qatar, many focusing on human rights concerns. As a result of the buzz, the Cornell administration, as well as prominent international figures and members of the Cornell community, are optimistic about prospects for the unique partnership.

President Hunter R. Rawlings III announced Monday that the Weill Cornell Medical College would establish a branch of its campus in the Persian Gulf state. This joint venture between the University and the Qatar Foundation represents the first time an American university establishes and manages a branch of its own medical school in a foreign country.

While the new branch will mostly be funded by the Qatar Foundation, Cornell will manage all of the staffing, admissions requirements, and curricula in the college.

The concerns, voiced by trustees, student groups, and faculty members, are based mainly on the fear that Israelis and Jewish students may not have an equal opportunity to receive an education at the new facility. Also, some argue that political unrest in the area may not prove to be a suitable environment for learning.

Some members of the Israeli Students Association reacted positively toward Cornell’s international outreach, but voiced concern over the decision to locate the facility in Qatar.

“For many years, Israelis were not allowed to enter Qatar. I think you are going to have a lot of Jews and Israelis saying, ‘hey, I’m not going to go there. It isn’t safe for me,'” said Gershon Lewental ’03, president of the Israeli Students Association.

“How comfortable would you be in a country that has discriminated against you for years?” he added.

Some Cornell faculty members also expressed concern about human rights issues in Qatar.

“I don’t quite understand why [the medical college] has to be there [in Qatar]. I don’t believe they [the University administration] ever answered that,” said Prof. Maria Cook, industrial and labor relations.

She added, “The United States Department of State puts out a human rights report. I don’t believe Qatar is known as a paragon of respecting human rights.”

At a press conference on Monday, Rawlings stressed that these concerns would be addressed by instating the same nondiscrimination policy in Qatar that exists at the College’s New York City campus. He assured that Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar would accept Jews and Israelis as faculty and as students.

“Some of our Jewish trustees and alumni were especially concerned, but as they learned more about Qatar and its ambitions, they were willing to proceed,” Rawlings said.

Compliance with the nondiscriminatory policy was also pledged by Weill Cornell Medical College Prof. Daniel Alonso, pathology, who will become the inaugural Dean of the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.

“We will start with a class of 50 students,” Alonso said. “Seventy percent of them may be Qatari citizens provided they meet Cornell’s admissions requirement. However, applicants from anywhere in the world will be considered for admission, just as we presently do in New York.”

According to Itamar Rabinovich, president of Tel Aviv University and a former Israeli ambassador to the United States who is currently visiting Cornell, Qatar now conducts normal diplomatic relations with Israel. In its ambitions to modernize, Qatar is attempting to rapidly industrialize.

“Qatar is certainly a worthy and safe nation for Cornell to locate a branch of its medical college in,” Rabinovich said. “If the location were to be Iraq or Iran, countries that exploit terrorism, that would be a very controversial decision.”

In addition, Prof. Theodore J. Lowi, government noted his satisfaction with the statements that the new Cornell-Qatari partnership, including Qatari government officials, issued immediately during their announcement of the new Weill Medical College.

“The main consideration is whether the regime wants to