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Texas A&M University to close Qatar campus

By Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune

Texas A&M University to close Qatar campus” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted Thursday to end its contract with the foundation that funds the system flagship’s branch campus in Qatar, effectively ending the 20-year-old program.

The vote to end the contract with the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, which is run by the Qatar government, means the school will start winding down the Doha campus over the next four years before officially closing its doors.

The 7-1 vote was made without discussion. Regent Michael Plank was the only regent to vote against the proposal. Regent Robert Albritton was absent.

The board’s decision comes a few months after a Washington, D.C. think tank known as the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy started to raise questions about the partnership between the state-run foundation and the university.

The nonprofit, which describes itself on its website as a center “dedicated to the academic study of antisemitism,” sent a letter to U.S. officials in January alleging that Qatar had “substantial ownership” of weapons development rights and nuclear engineering research being developed at the Texas A&M campus, which they claim is a threat to national security. The letter came a few months after ISGAP released a 17-page report where it alleged it had discovered a “disturbing relationship between Qatar and Texas A&M University.”

The report, released shortly after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, notes that Hamas is “funded extensively by Qatar” and that Qatar maintains a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The university has firmly denied the accusations about its research. A&M President Mark Welch wrote in a letter last month that the Qatar campus does not offer a nuclear engineering program or any classes at the campus.

“Contrary to what these articles have implied, no nuclear technology, weapons/defense or national security research is conducted at this campus,” Welch said in a Jan. 7 statement. “Nor does the Qatar campus have any connection to nuclear reactor research done in Texas or the Los Alamos National Lab.

“The insinuation that we are somehow leaking or compromising national security research data to anyone is both false and irresponsible,” he added.

The university opened the Qatar campus in 2003 to boost engineering education and research in the Middle East, a major oil and gas region. More than 1,500 students have graduated from the program and it currently enrolls 730 students, according to the university. Texas A&M is one of six American universities that has a location in Doha’s Education City, including Virginia Commonwealth University, Georgetown University and Northwestern University. The University of London ended its contract with the Qatar Foundation in 2020 as part of changes it made to its academic priorities.

All campus operations are paid for by the Qatar Foundation since A&M is a public institution and no state funding or tuition revenue can be used to pay for the campus’ operations. It’s unclear how much money the university receives annually from the contract. In 2016, The Washington Post reported that the school received more than $76 million to operate the branch campus.

This is a developing story.

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Disclosure: Northwestern University – Medill School of Journalism, Texas A&M University and Texas A&M University System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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