AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M University will close its 20-year-old Qatar campus by 2028, with board members noting “heightened instability" in the Middle East as a major reason to reconsider its presence in the country.
Thursday's vote by Texas A&M's Board of Regents also came after the school had faced criticism over its Qatar campus from a Washington, D.C.-based think tank after the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October.
The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy questioned the school's partnership with the state-run Qatar Foundation, and security regarding weapons development and nuclear engineering research.
Qatar has been a key mediator for negotiations between Hamas and Israel, and has deep ties to the militant group and hosts some of its exiled leaders. It also has close ties to the United States. The country hosts the largest American military base between Europe and Japan.
Texas A&M has vigorously defended its research and security at the campus on the outskirts of the capital city of Doha. A university system spokesman said the recent criticism had no bearing on the decision to close.
Texas A&M began reconsidering its presence in Qatar in fall 2023 “due to the heightened instability in the Middle East,” the board said in a statement.
“Discussions about branch and remote campuses are ongoing and had begun before false information was reported about Texas A&M and Qatar,” university system spokesman Michael Reilly said.
Texas A&M President Mark Welsh, a retired general and former chief of staff of the Air Force, defended the school in a letter to the campus community last month. He noted the Qatar campus does not have a nuclear engineering program or classes.
“The insinuation that we are somehow leaking or compromising national security research data to anyone is both false and irresponsible,” Welsh wrote.
In announcing the decision, board Chairman Bill Mahomes said Texas A&M's core mission "should be advanced primarily within Texas and the United States.”
“The work in Qatar is great work,” Mahomes said. “But it is a fraction of what Texas A&M accomplishes year after year.”
The terms of the contract with the Qatar Foundation will require a slow wind down before the facility finally shutters in 2028, the school said.
Texas A&M opened its Qatar campus in an area known as Education City, with a focus on teaching and research in chemical, electrical, mechanical and petroleum engineering. Qatar is a major natural gas producer that also pumps crude oil, and the Texas A&M campus has about 700 students.
Texas A&M is just one of several American universities in Education City. Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Virginia Commonwealth and Weill Cornell Medicine also have branches there.
Charles Asher Small, director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy that had issued a critical report of Texas A&M, praised the school's move to close the Qatar campus.
“The board has demonstrated a commitment to academic integrity, ethical principles, and national security concerns," Small said. "We urge the remaining U.S. universities there ... to follow suit and relocate their educational endeavors elsewhere.”
The Qatar Foundation criticized the campus closure and said the board “has been influenced by a disinformation campaign aimed at harming the interests of QF.”
The Foundation said the Texas A&M campus in Doha has graduated more than 1,500 engineers and called it a vital link for industry collaboration and research.
“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 said. “At no point did the Board attempt to seek out the truth from QF before making this misguided decision.”
The U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Timmy Davis, criticized the closure in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“TAMUQ proudly represents the (American) values and inspires innovation for students who might otherwise not have access to an American education. This is a loss for the Aggie community and for Education City,” Davis wrote.