Forward in 2016

Dean and CEO of NU-Q, Everette E. Dennis, reflects on the year ahead:

A way forward

For all of us at NU-Q the most significant news item recently was the announcement made by Provost Dan Linzer on a visit here that the agreement between Northwestern University and the Qatar Foundation had been extended to the academic year 2027-28, a time few of us can truly contemplate and comprehend this far out. This does give the school and all who are part of it a new lease on life and a chance to do more robust long-term planning.

For over nearly two years there were conversations that led to the agreement, building on our original ten-year contract, set to expire in 2018. I was privileged to be part of what seemed a protracted process, but one that was always guided by mutual respect between the parties—and appreciation for how we’ve worked together since 2008 to create a one of a kind school. In a real sense, the negotiations were a report card on our performance marked by a holistic understanding of the many achievements that have taken us to where we are today.

All of you at NU-Q—in the recent past, presently, and presumably in the future—are institution builders. That effort involved the overall guidance and leadership of many persons—and especially the continuous work and confidence of faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and others. In Evanston, scores of people from top leadership to recently arrived faculty and staff, have been stalwart supporters of the effort here. At Qatar Foundation, from Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and scores of senior officers, managers, and entry level assistants have likewise been our partners and supporters. As was often said in the conversations that led up to the agreement, we are in this together, learning from each other to create a distinctive enterprise that has benefited Qatar, the region, and the global community. Already, there are markers of that achievement in our instructional program, research efforts, service and thought leadership.

Quality worthy of NU

At the center of our effort here is a continuing concern that what we do here be of the highest quality—and that it be worthy of the home campus as well as contributing something important for the university at large. We are different than the other 11 schools of the university, mostly set up in perpetuity and with long histories, as we are a contract school with specific obligations and responsibilities both to the home campus and to our major benefactor, which acts on behalf of a country and its people. We do this best by attracting the strongest possible students, building a distinguished faculty, and securing a highly talented professional staff.

In the immediate term, we do this to best serve our students and to prepare them to be well-educated women and men in the Northwestern tradition. They major in communication and journalism in a liberal arts context, but as our alumni have demonstrated they enter many fields from the expected media industries and communications disciplines to business, education, law, the social sciences, and humanities as well as technology.

Our first 149 graduates over four years have entered the workforce with gusto moving toward leadership roles while fully 25 percent have matriculated to the world’s best graduate schools, both remarkable achievements for our alums and for the school too. Our leadership on the home campus and at the Qatar Foundation have expressed pride in this marker of success. We are not without our critics, and that is to be expected as there are different perspectives on whether international campuses should exist at all or in what happens here.

First and foremost, we insist on academic freedom and a chance for our students to enjoy intellectual freedom and freedom of expression. This mandate embraces high ideals but recognizes that freedom everywhere is always in play, never fixed or settled for all time. In the years, NU-Q has been in Qatar, we’ve witnessed many changes including greater transparency in many quarters and the capacity for us to do our work effectively. When problems occur, we address them as we also convey our values and traditions in a continuous conversation with those of our host country and the region which is greatly different than the United States at one level, but a productive platform for cultural connections and understandings.

So what’s different?

I’ve been asked if anything is different going forward in the face of this important benchmark. For the most part, we continue to develop and enhance the programs we’ve already built here. We honor our commitment while also exploring ways to engage in enhanced pre-college programs, midcareer, and executive education. We will also consider whether community classes for the general public are warranted.

Importantly we will follow up on plans laid over several years to explore the development of graduate programs. We have also been asked to collaborate with the new schools evolving at Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU) with possible joint faculty appointments, collaborative degree programs and more. These are all tentative considerations, based on the receipt of financial support for new efforts. While there are several parallel tracks for planning now and over the next months, all will have to be calibrated with the occupancy of the new building, and we will focus on our existing academic programs and other activities before we establish new ones. Thanks to all for the considerable work that has brought us to this moment in NU-Q's short history.