Texas A&M University to close Qatar campus after 'disinformation' campaign

Texas A&M University to close Qatar campus after 'disinformation' campaign
The US university's board of governors voted to close down the university citing 'heightened instability in the Middle East'.
4 min read
09 February, 2024
The decision follows serious allegations over the university's relationship with the Qatari government [GETTY]

A leading US university announced on Friday it will close its Qatar campus following strongly denied claims by a pro-Israel group that research projects there were controlled and funded by the Qatari government.

The board of governors at Texas A&M University voted to close down its Al-Rayyan branch over a multi-year process, citing "heightened instability in the Middle East" that had prompted a review of the university’s 20-year presence in the region.

In a statement published on Friday, the university’s board of governors announced Texas A&M at Qatar will be closed down over a four-year process, based on keeping its core education mission within the United States.

"The Board has decided that the core mission of Texas A&M should be advanced primarily within Texas and the United States," Board Chairman Bill Mahomes said.

"By the middle of the 21st century, the university will not necessarily need a campus infrastructure 8,000 miles away to support education and research collaborations."

The decision follows allegations that the university has a nuclear research programme funded and controlled by the Qatari government through its relationship with the Qatar Foundation, a state-led non-profit organisation that works with several international universities.

These claims – which have been flatly denied by the university’s president Mark Welsh this week – first appeared in a comprehensive report by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), an American non-profit academic research organization that studies antisemitism.

In response to the announcement of the closure, the Qatar Foundation claimed that Texas A&M’s governors had been influenced by a "disinformation campaign".

"It is disturbing that this disinformation has become the determining factor in the decision and that it has been allowed to override the core principles of education and knowledge, with no consideration to the significant positive impact that this partnership has brought for both Qatar and the US," in said in a statement on Thursday.

"It is deeply disappointing that a globally respected academic institution like Texas A&M University has fallen victim to such a campaign and allowed politics to infiltrate its decision-making processes."

The foundation added that at "no point" was it consulted by the board before it decided to shut it down.

ISGAP says it found "alarming research" related to research projects in the fields of engineering, technology, medicine, and humanities, which were funded through awards from the Qatar National Research Fund of the foundation.

It claimed the alleged programmes posed a "potential national security risk to the United States".

There were even claims, promoted in Israeli media, that the university operated a nuclear engineering programme, something which was flatly denied by Texas A&M president Mark Welsh in a statement on 7 January.

"Despite what recent online reports have stated, Texas A&M at Qatar does not offer a nuclear engineering program or any classes on the subject," the statement said.

"Contrary to what these articles have implied, no nuclear technology, weapons/defence or national security research is conducted at this campus."

Welsh also added that the university is recognised by the US government "for being a national leader in counterintelligence and protecting sensitive information and technology from foreign actors".

Meanwhile, ISGAP has commended the university's closure in a statement on Thursday calling it a "momentous decision".

The US Ambassador to Doha, Timmy Davies, said on Thursday he was "disappointed" with the decision to shut the university down.

Texas A&M is one of the top public universities in the US known for its engineering programmes. It is one of six American campuses in Qatar’s Education City which includes Virginia Commonwealth, Weill Cornell Medicine, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern.

Marc Owen Jones, associate professor of Middle East Studies at Hamad bin Khalifa University, said that disinformation campaigns by pro-Israel groups have a history of targeting Qatar.

“It is very clear that this decision comes on the back of a campaign of disinformation against Texas A&M in particular, and on the back of a campaign to try and get corporations to divest from Qatar," he told The New Arab.

"I think it would be hard to dispute that the reason for this decision is on the back of lobbying post October 7, at the end of the day Texas is a republican state, republicans tend to be far more pro-Israel."

Pro-Israel groups have targeted Qatar's ties to Iran and the Gulf country's hosting of officials from the Palestinian group Hamas.

Since the outbreak of war on Gaza, academics and students in the US who have expressed pro-Palestinian views have faced disciplinary action and even criminal charges.