What about the students of UW's Dubai campus?

15:18 Mar 8, 2013 · Opinion · By Hachem Hamadeh, Ken Chen, Maisam Raza, Amir Syed

There have been several articles recently concerning the controversial closure of the University of Waterloo satellite campus in Dubai. The Iron Warrior article, “UAE Campus to Close: Now What?” dated Nov. 14 of last year began:

“The news that UWaterloo was closing down its Dubai campus came as a surprise to most students.”

In spite of the content of this and other recent articles, the real voice of those students has still not been heard. The intention of this article is to redress this balance.

It is undeniable that many students were deeply disappointed by the news of the closure, especially past students of the Dubai campus. However, as for the students who are actually still part of the campus it was a very different and untold story.

On May 18, 2012, an article published by Imprint entitled, “Hamdullahpur defiant in face of censure and budget cuts” had the following excerpt:

“There were a lot of questions when we decided to go to Dubai, whether we were doing the right thing. I am very proud to say that the Dubai campus is doing very well now,’ Hamdullahpur remarked, having recently returned from a trip to Dubai. “The question in the first year was ‘Can it swim?’ Now it’s, ‘How fast can it swim?’ The Dubai campus has established a firm reputation for quality education. There are many other countries in that area that want to engage with our faculty and collaborate with research opportunities,’ he said.”

Clearly, UW Dubai was enjoying healthy growth and gaining momentum, presence, respectability, and credibility with an increasing number of applicants, both local and regional each year. Many people invested great effort and time into establishing this campus as a serious quality player in the fast developing sector of tertiary education in the UAE. No shortcuts were taken or compromises made to deliver the same experience to the UAE students as that on the main campus.

Therefore, everyone was in shock when we received the news of the precipitous closure of the Dubai campus. As the announcement was to everyone’s surprise at UW Dubai, and the (now ex) provost did not come with any clear or reassuring exit plan, all students (not to mention their families) were confused and worried. The second-year students were concerned that their fast approaching co-op terms would be in jeopardy. The first-year students had many more worries to confront (in addition to concentrating on their studies). Many first-year students were not planning to go to Canada so early; they were not ready on so many levels, whether mentally, emotionally, or economically. Some students had family or personal commitments for the next year that they will have to give up now if they are to complete their education undisturbed. Unfortunately, no one thought of that and the students had no options. The students as customers, standard bearers, and ambassadors of the university were shamefully neglected. Their opinion was never taken into consideration by the powers that be.

However, nothing more can be done at this point concerning the closure and the remaining staff and faculty at the Dubai campus are working tirelessly to ensure that normal service is maintained during the closing down period. This still does not make up for the fact that this decision was unfair to everyone who has worked and put time and effort into building the campus. It does not make up for the disappointment of the students who had faith in the promises made by the main campus. What makes things even more frustrating for students is that the reason for shutting down the campus is still unknown. In May, the campus was being hailed as a success by none other than the university president, and six months later it is being shut down. This contradiction has not been addressed in a clear or satisfactory way by those responsible for the decision (whoever they are). A clear explanation is still something that most if not all students would love to hear before they go to Canada.

Two further articles have also been written discussing in a point and counterpoint manner whether satellite campuses should be one of the projects that UW should focus on or not. These two articles used the Dubai campus as one of their examples, and unfortunately, the use of the example was more effective in the counterpoint arguing against the opening of more satellite campuses. Neither article touched on or even questioned the reasons behind the alleged failure of the campus, which is probably the most important point that should be considered when such future projects are proposed. However, recently an article on the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo (FAUW) blog might shed some light on some of the implied attitudes which led to the closure of the campus.

The article, “To Provost or Not to Provost?” raised a very important point that any student on the Dubai campus would find insulting and very inappropriate considering the circumstances. The purpose of the article was to inform FAUW members of the resignation of the vice-president, academic and provost (VPAP), to list her very few achievements (since she only held the position for a very short period of time), and to demonstrate her competence in such a position.

Starting on Line 12 of the article (based on the webpage format when the article is printed) is the second “significant development” that the past VPAP has achieved: The closing of the UW satellite campus in Dubai. In spite of the sadness that the news of the closure of the Dubai campus brought to everyone in Dubai (and only in Dubai apparently), what was sadder was that the closure of a satellite campus and the failure at expansion, is addressed as an achievement by the ex-provost and it was cheered by the author. Clearly, this campus did not have the blessings of at least one eminent member of the Faculty Association, who by his prominent title is representing the entire faculty membership of FAUW in this article. Once again, the voice of the students was ignored in this one-sided article.

Let us look at some of the achievements rather than dwelling on the unsupported innuendo. A new campus was established more than 10,000 km away on a different continent. Enrolment, resources and equity with the Canadian campus were all issues that had to be addressed. Start-ups always need time and support before they can stand securely, academically, and economically by themselves. Nothing was a given, and it is obvious that factions on the main campus were not willing to help and support UW Dubai get through the critical first few years. The first cohort of students is due to graduate soon and locally, the university had established a good reputation in the UAE and made many friends there and from many other countries in the region.

The details behind the campus’ functionality are unknown, yet it is very insulting and unprofessional for the campus to be called a “debacle.” This debacle has already sent two cohorts of students to the main campus, and will for one last time send two more cohorts of international students that match the high academic standards of the University of Waterloo and who will add diversity to its student community. Calling this campus a debacle implies that those working on this campus were not doing their job properly; when in reality it appears to be those on the main campus who were not doing their job.

Students on the Dubai campus do not know of the background concerning this project and the planning that was undertaken. Nonetheless, to use the fact that “a capital offense” would be committed by “an openly gay faculty member” as a reason for closure is absolutely absurd. Just as people and students have to respect the UW policies when on the Canada campus, the cultural sensitivity of the Middle East region must be taken into consideration just like any other part of the world. It is disappointing for a seemingly open-minded community or member to comment in such a manner, as that is in itself discrimination. Different cultures require different mentalities and policies to be implemented; having flexibility is an asset and shows the greater understanding of the UW community. Unfortunately, the opposite has been displayed. The University of Waterloo is a large university and should have enough faculty, staff, and expertise to adapt to an environment under the aim of delivering quality education.

Furthermore, despite it being a very minor point that does not contribute to the argument, the author of the FAUW article also did not take the time to capture a proper, recent or representative image of the University of Waterloo Dubai, UAE. The image displayed is from 2009; the area shown, which is behind the outdoor section of the cafeteria, has drastically changed. In addition, using that picture was meaningless and a picture of the UW building should have been taken instead. Overall, it shows how the Dubai campus was being viewed the whole time.

We do not intend to insult or inappropriately address anyone who might have been mentioned throughout. Instead, we felt it necessary to respond to all the previous articles which have neglected to consider the thoughts and feelings of those who were most affected by the closure: the students. Please take this as insight into what the students on the Dubai campus felt once the news was delivered and a reply to the way that the UW Dubai campus has been treated and portrayed.

Hachem Hamadeh
Ken Chen
Maisam Raza
Amir Syed

UW UAE Student Council

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