Northwestern Qatar Dean Everette Dennis reflects on the campus’ first decade


Daily file photo by Adrian Wan

Students at Northwestern University in Qatar. The campus marked its ten-year anniversary this year.

Gabby Birenbaum, Campus Editor

When Everette Dennis was first approached about being the dean of Northwestern University in Qatar, his inclination was to pass. Now leaving after seeing the school through its first decade, Dennis is glad he took the chance and proud of the progress the campus has made.

As NU-Q reaches its ten-year milestone, Dennis said the school has grown from a startup venture to a “maturing” school. Having opened its doors in 2008 in Education City after being approached by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, Dennis, who started in 2011, oversaw the transition from an initial graduating class of 36 students to a cohort of over 100 students in the class of 2022.

Dennis said one of the biggest challenges of leading the school was understanding how Qatar’s laws would affect their academic ventures, including their journalism and communications program. Qatari law does not provide for freedom of the press, and freedom of expression is limited and punishable in some cases.

“The first challenge is: Can you have freedom of expression and academic freedom?” Dennis told The Daily. “The answer is yes, but that had to be tested out. That was promised by the Qatar Foundation, it has worked out very well.”

“Beyond that, beyond the whole business of academic freedom for students, student-journalists, student-filmmakers and others, — to be able to work effectively in the local environment,” he said of additional challenges. “That takes some navigation … You find out by trying it out and testing the waters and making sure it works, and that’s been a gratifying experience and continues to be.”

In recent years, faculty have also had to contend with a blockade from neighboring nations against Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia, as punishment for allegedly supporting terrorist activity.

The struggles that come from trying to define press freedom and from the blockade empowered freshman Al-Reem Al Zaman to study journalism.

“(The blockade) has made me curious to learn more about the world of the media, and to be a part of the industry in the long run,” Al Zaman said in an NU-Q news release.

Dennis said having a campus in Qatar has strategic advantages. Its proximity to the rest of the the Middle East, as well as India and sub-Saharan Africa, allows the campus to recruit an incredibly diverse student body and make a truly global impact, he said. Among the current student body, over 40 countries are represented. Qataris make up slightly over half of the school’s population.

Faculty and administrators also believe they can expand the global reach of their journalism program with the upcoming 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“NU-Q plans to be at the forefront of good sports media by educating journalists on media law and ethics in the region,” NU-Q journalism prof. Craig LaMay said in NU-Q’s 2018 year in review report.

While they continue to figure out how to navigate Qatar’s legal and cultural environment, Dennis said the quality of the academics and the student body has improved in his time at the school. Students’ test scores have climbed and the curriculum has become more holistic while the opportunities to pursue digital storytelling in journalism and communications have benefitted from new technology.

Going forward, Dennis said adaptability will continue to be essential in order to ensure Northwestern’s values can be transferred to a campus over 7,000 miles away. He said he has confidence in whoever succeeds him to face those challenges.

“The big challenge is to probably represent the University there and to create a reputation for the University through the work of the faculty and the staff and the students to make it better-known in the world and to do something that is worthy of the home campus,” Dennis said. “The other one is transferring the values and the programs of Northwestern in a very different cultural setting — mak(ing) sure they work.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Everette Dennis was the inaugural dean of NU-Q and that he was retiring. John Margolis was the first dean of NU-Q, and Dennis is taking a leave before coming to Evanston as a member of the Medill faculty.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @birenbomb