Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern falls 14-13 to No. 2 Boston College in national championship battle

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Kronenberg: The elephant in the room at NU-Q

On Monday, The Daily’s Saul Pink and Samantha Powers published an In Focus highlighting the financial challenges students face at NU-Q, Northwestern’s campus in Doha, Qatar. The piece details how some struggle to pay for meals with the limited food stipends given to them by the University, despite paying the same tuition as students at NU’s Evanston campus.

It also delves into NU-Q’s financial aid policies, which recently became need-aware in the admissions process. The financial aid it still gives out is heavily influenced by the Qatar Foundation, the state-run organization that contributes the vast majority of NU-Q’s funding.

QF provides aid through interest-free loans which can either be paid back monetarily or through service. According to the article, “Under the service plan, QF forgives NU-Q students’ loans if they work or study at an approved institution in Qatar for up to six years, including media companies like Al Jazeera and an array of Qatari government ministries.”

These details are alarming. While QF has long claimed its relationship with NU-Q is purely financial and that it has no influence over how the University is run, the fact that students may be coerced into working for the Qatari government if they are unable to pay back loans demonstrates that the partnership runs deeper.

Although the In Focus covers plenty of ground, it stops short of providing crucial context on the oppressive nature of the Qatari government or connecting the dots on what Qatar’s aims might be in funding NU-Q.

Qatar is governed by an authoritarian regime, headed by a hereditary emir that is part of a royal family. While Qatari citizens are, on average, some of the wealthiest people on Earth, that prosperity is built on a deep underbelly of economic inequality and exploitation. Around 90% of the population is made up of non-citizens, who have no political rights and are often subjected to inhumane working conditions.

In the 10 years leading up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, 6,500 migrant workers died. Between 400 and 500 of those deaths occurred during the construction of new stadiums used for the tournament, according to Hassan Al Thawadi, the secretary general of a World Cup organizing committee who also serves on the NU-Q joint advisory board.

Qatar also criminalizes homosexuality, and members of the sparse LGBTQ+ community there say they face persistent discrimination. On several occasions, government officials have arbitrarily arrested individuals on the basis of gender expression and physically abused them in custody, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Women, meanwhile, are subjected to a guardianship system in which they must receive permission from a male relative to marry or travel abroad.

Notably, Qatar has spent close to two decades providing financial support to the terrorist group Hamas. Recent reporting estimates that Hamas has received around $2 billion in funding since 2007 from Qatar, which allows Hamas leaders to stay in luxury Doha hotels while they impoverish the Gazan population and incite war that has left the strip decimated.

Most relevant to NU-Q is Qatar’s attitude toward the press and political expression. Dissent against the government is highly monitored and restricted, as evidenced by the 2023 sentencing of multiple activists to life in prison for criticizing an election law online. Al Jazeera and other state-run media outlets take the place of a permissive free speech environment.

While the English version of Al Jazeera is regarded as a somewhat reliable outlet, the same cannot be said of its Arabic counterpart. Al Jazeera in Qatar has a long history of propagandizing on behalf of the Qatari government and its partners in the region, including Hamas. When Hamas brutally murdered 1,200 Israelis on Oct. 7, Al Jazeera reporters and anchors widely celebrated the attack.

Because NU-Q only offers degrees in journalism and communications, it is only natural that Al Jazeera is an institutional partner, offering a speaker series twice per semester for students to learn from its executives and journalists. The QF financial aid policy that offers service to Al Jazeera as an alternative to paying off debt suggests that Qatar hopes to use NU-Q grads as informational arms of their dictatorship.

Some might argue that spreading Medill’s teachings to countries that lack freedom of the press is a worthy cause. A similar university would likely exist either way given that NU doesn’t pay for the campus, so isn’t it better that Medill professors are at least providing the lens of traditional, independent journalism?

This reasoning has some genuine merits. However, what it fails to account for is that Qatar benefits a great deal from the NU and Medill name brands. In the past decade, Qatar has engaged in a series of reputation laundering tactics designed to endear itself to Western countries and wash over its human rights abuses.

The most widely acknowledged one was the 2022 World Cup, which used the world’s most popular sport to sell other countries on a narrative of Qatari progress and modernization. While foreign journalists raised the issue of migrant worker deaths and accused the government of “sportswashing,” Qatar emerged from the tournament largely unscathed and with more geopolitical power.

Its strategy with NU-Q goes along the same lines. By affiliating a local institution of higher education with one of America’s foremost journalism schools, Qatar seeks to attach legitimacy to its repressive media environment. NU has planted its flag on foreign shores, but in doing so, has allowed its brand to be co-opted by a government whose values stand in stark opposition to those that the University — and Medill especially — claim to uphold.

When University President Michael Schill testifies before Congress Thursday, he will likely be asked about NU-Q and its relationship with Al Jazeera. With NU-Q’s contract set to expire after the most recently admitted class graduates, Schill has the opportunity to reevaluate a deal which he inherited from previous presidents.

He would be wise to consider the role NU-Q plays in the geopolitical strategy of an autocratic regime before greenlighting another decade in Doha.

Eli Kronenberg is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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