Kraidy: Northwestern Qatar is a “treasure to be nurtured”

August 16, 2020

Marwan M. Kraidy, Northwestern University in Qatar’s newly appointed dean and CEO, shared a glimpse of his vision in a series of meetings with faculty, staff, and students. An authority on Arab media and a global communication scholar, Kraidy’s reflections covered an array of academic and administrative areas, including research and changes in the media landscape, as well as his return to the Middle East. 

Addressing Northwestern Qatar’s efforts in the past year, from aligning the curriculum with new and emerging technology to adapting to a learning environment disrupted by a global pandemic, Kraidy warned against getting lost in “how new and unprecedented” all of this is. Instead, he said the school has to “neutralize some of the negative effects” of these changes, and “take advantage” of some of their more positive aspects.

“For example, an online Zoom classroom means that suddenly you can get world-class experts who can be 10,000 miles away whose only inconvenience is the time difference,” he explained. “As opposed to flying them in, spending a lot of money, pumping carbon in the atmosphere, and factoring in the energy wasted in the process. So, there are some benefits to this.”

Academically, Kraidy pointed to the popularity of media and communication studies within an uncertain job market. “If you look at any university, what you’ll see is that the number of majors in media and communication is quite high, compared to a lot of other disciplines.” At the same time, he said, the digital world and a changing economic situation are putting the traditional model of journalism under pressure with “the understanding of media and journalism as a business, a private commodity, as opposed to a public good.”

Emphasizing that media is a public good, and needs to be supported as such, Kraidy highlighted the need to be proficient in the skills necessary to succeed in the digital world – including writing well, speaking persuasively, thinking critically, and navigating multiple media platforms. “You cannot be overspecialized,” he said. “You need to learn to be nimble, you need to learn to be open to learning new things, which we did not think about as much before.”

On his research agenda for Northwestern Qatar, Kraidy emphasized three central components: using Qatar-based research as a prism on global affairs, fostering a culture of interdisciplinarity, and ensuring that faculty grants and fellowships focus on original contributions to knowledge, and are only the beginning of “active and engaged scholarship.”


Kraidy, whose latest publication about the Arab uprisings critically engages multiple fields – from history and comparative literature to art criticism and religious studies, among others – also said that “the world today is too complex to be understood through the prism of one discipline.” And while this creates opportunities for multidisciplinary work it also means that research at Northwestern Qatar should not only focus on how Qatari society adapts and is shaped by the changing media environment, but should also highlight how Qatar serves as an optic on the broader world – it should “speak back and say here’s what we see in media in the Middle East, and here is how our local research tells us more about global trends.”

This strategy, he said, “connects our current context to the world at large, and attracts the attention of people who may not be interested in the Gulf or the Arab world, but who may find that they have a lot to learn from our research about the issues and contexts they care about.”

Having a global reach is also important for developing a robust graduate program, which Kraidy considers “central to the research mission of the University.” Though acknowledging that a fully-fledged graduate program is “costly and extremely competitive,” Kraidy said that hiring outstanding faculty who are experienced with research and with pedagogy will position Northwestern Qatar as an attractive global hub for graduate education. “If you have a strong graduate program with strong faculty, other faculty from all over the world are going to look at it and say ‘hey this seems to be the place to be. Do you have a job for me?’ That’s what I want us to be,” he said.

Administratively, Kraidy stressed that a transparent institutional culture that centers the fundamental pillars of shared governance is “absolutely crucial.” Identifying those pillars, he mentioned “a commitment to a central mission and set of values,” the establishment of clear procedures, respect for the needs of others through “the art of compromise,” a responsibility to show how decisions made are “in the best interests of the institution and its members,” and the upholding of “clear internal and external communication.”

Kraidy, who previously traveled long distances to the Middle East for work and family commitments, is excited to explore new possibilities through his presence in the region, including harnessing "a place of immense potential, particularly in a country like Qatar where you have government commitment to education as a fundamental value for the nation,” and increasing “the two-way traffic of ideas and constructive engagement” between Western nations and the Muslim/Arab world.

“What excites me is that my two worlds are now coming together. For years I have been a U.S.-based scholar who did research on and in the Arab world and had emotional and historical connections to it,” Kraidy said. “Now I’m part of a world-class U.S. university, but I work and live in the region, and I’m very excited about that because it gives me more accountability.”

Kraidy, who joined NU-Q from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, explained that the strategic opportunities afforded by the region are not only rewarding on a personal level but also have important implications for Northwestern Qatar.

“The fact that this is a great American university with storied communication, journalism, and liberal arts programs, in Doha, with students from more than 50 different nationalities, and faculty and staff from dozens and dozens of nationalities, working in different languages, is one of the most attractive aspects about the university and one of its most distinctive features,” he said. “This is a treasure to be nurtured, and I don’t take that for granted.”