Thursday, December 1, 2022

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 raises academic questions

The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 raised academic freedom concerns related to Qatar's Education City American branch programs. Geoff Harkness, who formerly served in a postdoctoral teaching role for Carnegie Mellon University and Northwestern University in Qatar, commented "The World Cup is a branding opportunity of a lifetime for a country like Qatar... Education, and Education City in particular, is a big part of the image that Qatar is trying to project to the world, using the World Cup as a platform to do so." Harkness claimed he left his teaching roles in 2013 partially due to concerns over academic freedom.

Craig LaMay, who taught and served for a time as the Dean of Northwestern's program, said that he was once ordered to cancel a student event that included a gay performer. As a result, he "remained unconvinced and uncertain about the country's prospects as a higher education destination, noting that a lot of institutions were rethinking the value of international campuses more widely, not just in Qatar."

Another Carnegie Mellon University faculty member, David Busch, reflected on his two years at the Qatar campus. His essay referenced F. Scott Fitzgerald's assertion in "The Crack-Up" that "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." He went on to describe asking students in his class to debate the historical record of race in the U.S.A. and a current pressing public policy issue. The students explored the same issues related to Qatar on a second day. The example was used to demonstrate Fitzgerald's thesis that first-rate intelligence could see both the negative and positive aspects of the two governments. Busch assessed the debate about the U.S.A. as effective but he was disappointed in the defensiveness he observed when it came to Qatar, supporting the Fitzgerald thesis in one case but not in the other. When exploring whether or not teaching in Qatar was effective or defensible, Busch cited Fitzgerald again - "I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort... and the sense of the necessity to struggle."

Having worked for Qatar Foundation and interacted with faculty and students of branch programs on a regular basis from 2007-14, I recognize the tensions that Harkness and LaMay expressed. I saw the tensions somewhat differently as a result of my working directly with QF and Qatari colleagues where faculty working for the branches have much less contact with the real people and leaders of the country. My view is that significant change has been, and continues to be, underway. A deep encounter of cultural perspectives like that of U.S.A. academic institutions in an Islamic monarchy is destined to have points of conflict on everything from recognition of LGBTQ+ rights to free speech and more. The point for me was and continues to be that the change process is underway and that it requires adaptive responses among everyone and every institution involved.

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