May 1, 2001

Qatar Pre-Medical Program Hiring in Ithaca

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Stakes are high as the University progresses with plans for the pre-medical program in Qatar, an initiative that may draw significant resources and personnel from the Ithaca campus.

The agreement to establish the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar is “primarily a [New York City] medical college initiative,” according to Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin. Few have denied, however, that the successful launching of its pre-medical counterpart in the fall of 2002 depends on cooperation from the University’s math and science departments.

The two-year program, designed to help prepare prospective Qataris and others from the Persian Gulf area for applying to the new medical college, aims to recruit 19 or more full-time faculty members to Qatar.

To fill these overseas positions, “the medical college deans and faculty would like to have Cornell-Ithaca faculty directly involved but it is not essential,” Martin said.

As an extra incentive, the University is offering an unspecified financial bonus — “reasonable but not unusually high,” according to President Hunter R. Rawlings III, who added that “a large number of faculty members have expressed interest in going to Qatar.”

This week, deans and math and science department chairs on campus have conducted meetings to begin the search process.

Since it is unlikely and impractical for 19 or more pre-medical faculty members to leave Ithaca for Qatar, the University has a procedure in place for hiring adjunct faculty members, according to Glenn Altschuler, dean of the School of Continuing Education.

Under the terms of the agreement, Cornell-Ithaca departments will be completely responsible for approving both the instructors and the courses on a case-by-case basis.

“No courses will go forward until the department is pleased with the faculty and approves the facilities,” Altschuler said.

The pre-medical program will be taught in English and will offer 60 credits in fields such as genetics, physics, chemistry, statistics, and anatomy and physiology. The courses will contain full lab components, and their structure and content will be identical to courses offered in Ithaca.

“Our standards will not be lowered. We wouldn’t want to admit someone that in two years who won’t have a good chance of entering the medical school,” Rawlings said.

Students who complete the pre-medical program will not necessarily be admitted to the medical school; they will still need to take the medical school boards and apply to the medical college, according to Rawlings.

All pre-medical courses will be offered as extramural credit through the Office of Continuing Education. However, unlike the overseas medical degrees, which will be wholly equivalent to those earned in New York, the pre-medical courses will probably carry a “Qatar” stamp on an official transcript.

Having returned from Qatar last week, David Robertshaw, associate dean of the new branch of the medical school, noted that development plans for the new medical school and premedical complex were well underway.

“We have every expectation that the long-term facilities will be first-rate,” Altschuler said.

Next week a group of Japanese architects plans to present the final designs for the facilities, which will be located in the capital Doha, where Qatar is trying to create an “education city,” anchored by an array of elite American universities.

Given the quiet nature of the agreement and the lack of faculty input in the process, several Ithaca faculty members have expressed reservations about the Qatar initiative.

“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,” said Prof. William Lesser, applied economics and management.

Outspoken concerns have ranged from questioning how Cornell can ensure quality control abroad to worrying about whether too many professors leaving for Qatar would make it difficult to find replacements in the existing departments.

Other professors have also expressed reservations about the financial aspects of the agreement. The Qatar Foundation, established by the emir of Qatar and led by his wife, Sheika Mozah bint Nasser al-Misnad, has agreed to pay $750 million for the school over 11 years, including a fee to Cornell.

“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,” said Prof. Risa L. Lieberwitz, collective bargaining, law and history.

While neither side has revealed the size of the Qatar Foundation’s undisclosed payment to the Cornell medical school in New York, Ronald G. Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations, doubted that it was an important factor in the negotiations.

“The Faculty Senate was led to believe that the Ithaca campus will not become richer due to the agreement,” he said. “The primary motivation has to be academic.”

The first pre-medical program class for the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar is scheduled to enter in fall 2002 and the first medical program class in fall 2004. The first Cornell degree will be awarded in spring 2008.

Rawlings said that the whole thing would never have happened if Cornell had not been granted complete control over the agreement.

“We had an unusually good invitation,” he said. “The leadership in Qatar wanted a very high quality program. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been interested.”

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts