Two weeks after the surprise announcement of Cornell’s plans to establish the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, several faculty members have expressed concerns about the initiative and the lack of faculty input in the process.
“My main concern is whether Cornell should do this at all,” said Prof. Risa L. Lieberwitz, collective bargaining, law and history. “It is a problem for the University to do these things in secret.”
Emphasizing the frustration expressed by some at the last Faculty Senate meeting, Prof. William Lesser, applied economics and management, admitted that the negotiation agreements were pretty much complete by the time most faculty members were informed.
“This was never open for discussion. A lot of good may come of it, but there are some problems that need to be worked out in the long run,” Lesser said.
Some of the greatest concerns faculty members raised involve the two-year pre-medical program, which aims to recruit 19 of the University’s faculty members or adjunct professors from math and science fields to begin instruction in Qatar during fall 2002.
“The Medical College deans and faculty would like to have Cornell-Ithaca faculty directly involved but it is not essential,” said Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin.
She added that Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., dean of the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, has already received messages from faculty at a number of peer institutions expressing interest in teaching in Qatar.
Significant funds will be made available to attract Cornell faculty to work at the Qatar facility so that the program can be seen as a true Cornell operation, according to a University press release.
Under the terms of the agreement, Cornell-Ithaca departments will be responsible for approving both the instructors and the courses on a case-by-case basis if extramural credit is to be granted to students in Qatar. All approvals will be handled through the Office of Continuing Education.
“I have reservations,” said Prof. Barry Carpenter, chemistry. “We still don’t have all of the details of the arrangement, and that makes it difficult to evaluate the situation.”
Carpenter explained that having too many faculty members leaving the Ithaca campus for Qatar in a short time span could make it difficult to find replacements.
On the other hand, if not enough Ithaca-based faculty members volunteer for Qatar, then relying too much on adjunct faculty may make it difficult to maintain quality control abroad, according to Carpenter.
In an effort to dispel concerns about the level of faculty involvement necessary for the program, James Mingle, University Council, stressed that “the premedical program has lots of general flexibility. It calls for people who would be there for short and long periods of time.”
Still, some faculty members wondered why the University would devote so much energy to the pre-medical program, which could be the riskiest venture in the agreement.
“It’s kind of odd that we’re giving a pre-med program halfway around the world when we don’t even have one ourselves,” Lesser said.
The pre-medical program aims to provide training for prospective medical students at the Medical College in Qatar. Students taking the pre-medical aspect of the program are not guaranteed admission to the College, but they do receive Cornell undergraduate credit for the courses.
Another aspect of the agreement that sparked faculty debate is that the Qatar Foundation will own and provide all capital facilities of the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar and will completely cover all operating costs, including all faculty and other personnel salaries.
The Qatar Foundation is a private, non-profit organization, which is funded by the Emir and his family.
During the first 10 years, the operating costs of Cornell’s medical college in Qatar are projected at $750 million.
Lieberwitz pointed out that the arrangement where the Qatar Foundation is fully funding the project may create a conflict for Cornell between the academic interests of the Medical College and its financial interests.
“If you depend completely on funding from one source, then the funder is in the extreme position to influence academic decisions. It seems like a conflict of interests and a check on academic freedom,” Lieberwitz said.
In response to the concerns raised, Martin noted that faculty members outside of the University Faculty Committee were not consulted for the decision earlier, because the Qatar satellite is a Medical College initiative.
“A certain degree of confidentiality was critical to the process of negotiating an agreement for a range of complicated reasons,” Martin said.
In a single meeting last fall, Medical College faculty were briefed of the plans, before they reviewed and completely endorsed the proposal.
“All issues and angles have been thoroughly examined and addressed. The University’s interests are fully protected in this enterprise, and the University is in a position of complete control,” Mingle said.
Mingle further emphasized that an “exit plan” exists for the agreement, which would permit termination upon “default, advanced notice for convenience or in an emergency.”
“I’m not aware of any concern raised recently that wasn’t raised initially by the University,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.
Lesser maintained that the biggest problem was the unknown.
“The [University Faculty Committee] has general concerns about a socially conservative, not very democratic area of the world about which we know little.”
Martin said that representatives from the Weill Cornell Medical College and the Board of Trustees have taken serious measures to mitigate the risks, including ensuring the quality of education, non-discriminatory admissions and educational policies, and the safety of faculty and students.
“In my view it is a promising development that obviously also carries some risks,” she said.
Archived article by Jennifer Roberts