Friday, April 06, 2007

Global Expansion! Yay?

So according to today's Chicago Tribune, Northwestern University will now have an outpost in the Middle East. And more specifically the Medill School of Journalism will be setting up a school in Qatar.

Northwestern is not the first University to take money from the Qatari government to set up a school. In fact, an institution I am rather familiar with has a medical school branch in Qatar. Cornell University, my undergraduate alma mater, opened its doors in 2004.

And for Northwestern students, I think there are a couple of potential benefits. Al-Jazeera is headquartered in Qatar, so anybody interested in interning there might be positively affected.

Spring break in Qatar anyone?

But the serious issue about opening up a journalism school in the heart of the mideast is what kind of journalism will be taught? What kind of journalism is even allowed? As far as that area of the world goes, Qatar is a pretty liberal place, but let's not fool ourselves. Woman do not enjoy full rights, and up until recently men would feel uncomfortable wearing shorts.

The country has been ruled by a small group of people, one family, for a long time. And though Al-jazeera is an example of free press, there is no First Amendment in Qatar. There are no guarentees that the government won't step in tomorrow and shut the place down. And there is certainly no guarentee in places like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria of a free press.

In fact according to the non-partisan group Freedom in the World, Qatar is rated "Not Free" as a country. It scores low for both political rights and civil liberties.

Is the Arab world ready for someone like a Medill student who feels they have a right to complain about and question everything, from politics to curriculum? I don't even know if Medill is ready for this right here in Evanston.

So what's the point? What is the motivation for this?

Well this would be an all expense paid deal for Northwestern University. The Qatari Foundation (i.e. the government) will pay for everything, from buildings to faculty. The school will be located in Qatar's "Education City". Where Cornell, VCU and Georgetown among others house their schools.

Speaking of Cornell, they received a "gift" from Qatar for opening a medical school in the country. The amount is undisclosed.

Is this about money or journalism?

I don't know, but I am exceedingly wary about a journalism school being set up and paid for entirely by a government. Any government.

I don't like posing all these open ended questions, but I don't know the answers to them and I'm not sure anybody would be forthcoming with them. Or at least answers that I totally believed.

And all this is for 50 or 60 students to get a Medill degree while not even attending the actual University.

Look I understand the promise of this opportunity and I think it could be quite beneficial for Medill in a lot of ways.

I'm just not sure now is the time or that Qatar is the place for this kind of expansion.


At Saturday, April 07, 2007, Blogger MW said...

Yeah, it'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I still like the idea of Medill establishiing a presence in Quatar, and hopefully their ambitions aren't rooted in whatever prestige it can get from having this presence.

Obviously Qatar has its own agenda, and I'm not sure Medill would be willing to implement a bold lesson plan, not unless they want to flirt with expulsion from Qatar. But progress has to come in baby steps, and as long as Medill maintains a good deal of control over their program there, I think there's reason to be cautiously optimistic.

First, Qatar students need to THINK like good journalists. I don't mean shaping their political beliefs, but shaping their thought process and pushing them to ask more questions before settling on the answers they're given. Second, they have to learn how to reach their audience. I'm not talking about marketing, I mean making their reports available to their audience without censorship; in other words, setting up operations that can't be shut down very easily (i.e. websites, "pirate" radio broadcasts, etc.) You put these two lessons together, and you have the foundation for a free press; it may not be approved by the government, but it's something. As long as Medill doesn't wrap their program there in some kind of blatantly obvious political agenda, I think all of these things are possible. Likely? Who knows, but it's something to hope for.

At Saturday, April 07, 2007, Blogger GN said...

Thanks for that info, J. I agree with your concerns and I myself am wary when I see such collaborations between restrictive governments and U.S. institutions. I belive it's a PR move more than anything, for both parties. The government fo Qatar can claim support for press freedom while NU beefs up its resume by expanding its presence. Like MW, I wonder if Medill Qatar will teach students how to report under government restrictions? I doubt it. It's not in the interest of either party.

At Saturday, April 07, 2007, Blogger AJS said...

I think it's quite obvious Medill needs to address its concerns at home first. Outside of the issues of money and civil liberties and all those things, I think that's my primary concern. Medill -- like any school that strives to be number one in its field -- has a responsibility to current students, alumni and industry insiders to produce high-quality journalists and journalism. In order to do that, it needs to be receptive to those people, be it addressing technology issues, curriculum concerns, providing adequate faculty and staff, etc., etc. I just hope that Medill doesn't get too overstretched by trying to expand to Qatar that the school in Illinois gets short shrift.

At Saturday, April 07, 2007, Blogger Amanda M. said...

This is really interesting to me that Medill is expanding to Qatar. I wonder if that school will resemble ours at all. I don't know much about Qatar. I do think if we can get more good journalists all over the world, that's a good thing.

I wonder what Medill's interests are in setting up the school. What will the payoff be?

I wonder what the Qatar students will think of our administration. I would love to cover that story.

At Saturday, April 07, 2007, Blogger MW said...

"I wonder if Medill Qatar will teach students how to report under government restrictions? I doubt it. It's not in the interest of either party."

Maybe not, but they can teach them skills that allow them to do that.

Ever read this site?

Craig Lamay suggested it to his global seminar. It's probably the only real independent voice in Malaysia. While the Malaysian government has "pledged" to keep the web uncensored, they've raided the site's offices. The raid temporarily shut down the site, but it was up and running again in no time. (Websites are much tougher to silence than TV stations and newspapers.)

Qatar's got computers and internet access, and teaching how to use those tools shouldn't be viewed as a way of instigating political change - operating a website is certainly essential to any international business nowadays. The hope is, you teach those skills to Qatar journalists, and someday, a few of them get the inspiration to do something a bit radical with their education.

At Saturday, April 07, 2007, Blogger L.C. said...

I agree that the motivations and underpinnings are questionable, but I also think that there's nothing better than giving budding journalists the opportunity to experience a different way of life.

Unfortunately a journalist's work is often limited by the access granted by governments, and learning how to be a good reporter despite those apparent parameters could prove invaluable. I agree with M.W. that the restricted environment might produce journalists that are even stronger, less easily influenced and trained to extremely committed to core jounalistic values because the stakes are higher.

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