April 11, 2001

With Weill in Qatar, C.U. Becoming Multinational

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Antonio Gotto, Jr., dean of the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College in New York City, announced Monday that the College will create a branch in Qatar, a tiny nation in the Persian Gulf. Currently, about 100 students attend the medical school in New York, and about 50 more students will be accepted to the Qatar branch.

The Qatar Foundation, founded in 1995 by Sheikh Harnad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Qatar’s emir, will provide the $750 million needed over the next 11 years to establish the school in the capital city of Doha.

“They’d like to be an education center so that they don’t have to send off [their] students to Europe or the U.S.,” said Barbara Friedman ’59, member of the Board of Trustees.

“Clearly, Qatar has the resources to do that so that they can produce very quality [education], and they’re able to pay for that,” said President Hunter R. Rawlings III.

Though the project had been in the works for a year and a half, it had been a closely guarded secret until Monday’s press conference.

“This is the type of initiative that you try and make sure that there is no leakage until you have all of the details of the transaction nailed down,” said Harold A. Tanner ’52, chair of the Board of Trustees.

According to Gotto, the Qatar Foundation sought out Cornell for the venture.

Tanner noted that, as an example of its commitment to education, the government has established a kindergarten through 12th grade school in Doha, “taught in the English school manner.”

“They stand out in a different mode from other [Middle Eastern] countries,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.

Classes will be taught by professors from the Weill Medical College or by other New York-based professors. They will be conducted completely in English.

Tanner stressed that, since graduates of the Doha campus will receive a degree equivalent to one conferred by the Weill Medical College in New York City, admissions standards will be strictly enforced. The Qatar Foundation has agreed to allow the University complete control over admissions in admitting only students who can meet the medical school’s standards.

“The reaction that I got [from other schools’ administrators was], ‘if you don’t hold full academic control, then you shouldn’t do it,'” Friedman said.

“That’s a standard that will be maintained,” Tanner assured, adding that the University will also seek to admit women as at least half of the first student body in Weill Cornell in Qatar.

Located in the Persian Gulf, Qatar is a country of about 700,000 inhabitants, many who are not Qatari citizens.

“They have people living there as expats [expatriates], so I’m not quite sure who the minority is there,” Friedman said.

Qatar’s human rights record has been questioned by some, though both Tanner and Friedman, who recently visited Qatar, said that they experienced no anti-semitic sentiment or discrimination towards women.

“As a Jewish woman, I felt very welcomed,” Friedman said.

Qatar’s government does not allow freedom of assembly, though it boasts a privately-owned television station, and women are allowed to run for political office.

Among all factors related to the new venture in higher learning, University administrators stressed the Qatari government’s commitment to improving education.

“The Emir wanted to leave behind a legacy of education,” said Antonio M. Gotto, Jr. dean of the medical school.

“Qatar has decided to make education a cornerstone for improving the lives of its citizens,” Rawlings added.

University administrators cited reasons for creating an accredited branch of its Medical College in the Middle East.

“This will give the University a presence in a very important part of the world,” Gotto said. “We [now] have the opportunity of improving medical care there.”

“You really can help change education,” Friedman added.

According to Dullea, faculty from the Medical College in New York will rotate from to the Qatar campus at intervals. They will spend anywhere from a couple of months to several years at the Doha campus, and some will remain there permanently.

The University expects applications from all over the world for its pre-medical class in 2002, which will prepare students for Cornell’s graduate medical program to begin there in 2004.

Because students from all over the world may show interest in attending the new branch of the medical school, “we’re going to have to work with other countries [in admissions],” Rawlings said.

“Several academics have said this could become a really good model for other institutions and other countries,” he noted.

Archived article by Maggie Frank