The Texas A&M University’s governing board has overwhelmingly voted to shut down the branch campus in the Gulf nation of Qatar amid claims that the university’s 20-year presence there poses a national security risk.
In a 7-1 vote on Thursday, the A&M Board of Regents decided to end the contract with the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, a Qatari government-run organization that has been funding the campus on the outskirts of Doha since 2003.
The contract between the A&M and the Foundation was most recently renewed in 2021 and was set to expire on June 30, 2033. This means the university will spend the next four years making sure that all current students complete their education and that all research obligations are appropriately fulfilled before the Qatar campus officially closes its doors in 2028.
In a statement after the vote, the board said they started weighing in on whether to keep the Qatar campus open last fall in the wake of “heightened instability in the Middle East.” They also cited a desire to focus on the university’s stateside campuses.
“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 also comes a month after the investigations of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, a Washington-based think tank that targeted A&M.
In a Jan. 4 letter to national security officials, the Institute warned of an “urgent national security” risk, claiming that the A&M-Qatar partnership has given the Qatari government “unprecedented control over academic research and standards, faculty, students, curriculum, and budgets at Texas A&M,” which involves in “sensitive nuclear and weapon” research.
“In return for over a billion dollars in funding, a substantial portion of which remains unreported and unregulated, Qatar has acquired full ownership of more than 500 research projects at Texas A&M, some of which are in highly sensitive fields such as nuclear science, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, biotech robotics, and weapons development,” it claimed.
A&M President Mark Welsh has since denied the accusations, saying that no nuclear technology, weapons or national security research is conducted at the Doha campus.
“The research conducted at this campus focuses on energy, water and environment, carbon capture, smart manufacturing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, data science, and data analytics in the energy sector,” Mr. Welsh said in a Jan. 7 statement. “The insinuation that we are somehow leaking or compromising national security research data to anyone is both false and irresponsible.”
Qatar, Mr. Welsh argued, is still a U.S. ally that hosts a large U.S. military base in the Middle East. Neither is A&M the only American school that maintains a campus in Doha.
“Texas A&M is one of six American universities in Doha’s Education City supporting the education pillar of the U.S.-Qatar bilateral relationship,” he noted. “Scores of U.S. businesses operate in Qatar, which has strong ties to Texas-based energy companies.”
The other five Qatar-funded U.S. branch campuses are those of Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Northwestern, and Virginia Commonwealth Universities and Weill Cornell Medical College.
In a campus-wide message Thursday, Mr. Welsh said the board’s decision to close the campus by 2028 was made after “thoughtful discussion.”
“Over the last 20 years, the Qatar campus has advanced ideals, graduated exceptional Aggie engineers and is cemented as an important legacy of Texas A&M,” he told the campus community. “As we look to the future, we will continue our commitment to global education and research through our campuses in the United States.”
The Foundation criticized the decision as influenced by a “disinformation campaign.”
Timmy Davis, the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, was disappointed in the decision.
“[A&M Qatar] proudly represents the [American] values and inspires innovation for students who might otherwise not have access to an American education,” he wrote on X on Friday morning. “This is a loss for the Aggie community and for Education City.”
The Institute, meanwhile, applauded the end of the partnership with Qatar, which it called “a state that supports and funds terror, and promotes and spreads the extremist Islamist ideology.”
“As Texas A&M’s departure from Education City in Doha marks a significant and meaningful shift in U.S. academia’s ties to the Qatari Regime, we urge the remaining U.S. universities there ... to follow suit and relocate their educational endeavors elsewhere, refraining from accepting funding tainted by an anti-Western, anti-democratic, pro-Jihad regime,” said Charles Small, the Institute’s executive director.