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Houston CC: Qatar Unable to Credit Coursework?

TThe western universities in Qatar have fought long and hard to have accountability and enforced standards . . . and there are always challenges. Here is a hilarious article about one such newer university facing significant challenges (thanks, John! )

Faulty planning may be to blame for HCC Qatar campus’s problems

By Jeannie Kever, Houston Chronicle
Updated 09:01 p.m., Saturday, February 4, 2012

As top officials at Houston Community College were collecting awards and publishing papers about their international ventures last year, their effort in Qatar was struggling with disagreements over accreditation, high faculty turnover and growing worries that the dean hired by the Qataris to lead the effort was working against them.

The problems, detailed in emails and internal documents obtained through a public records request, raise questions about whether HCC was prepared for the ambitious foreign undertaking.

The dean chosen by the Qatari government was replaced in November by a veteran HCC employee, Butch Herrod, as part of an administrative overhaul. Enrollment has reached 750 students, less than two years after HCC signed an agreement with the Qatari government to create that nation’s first community college.

But students have not received HCC credits for their classes there – a cornerstone of the promises made when the partnership was announced – and for now it appears unlikely their coursework will transfer to the six U.S. universities with operations in Qatar. After months of student protests, a deal signed last month will allow graduates of the new community college to enroll in Qatar University.

Things were so bad last spring an HCC administrator in Qatar wrote HCC Chancellor Mary Spangler that Community College of Qatar, or CCQ, had become known as “the Crazy College of Qatar.”

From the beginning, Spangler said the Qatar contract was a way to earn money as state funding dropped and property tax revenues remained flat. HCC records indicate the college has collected $640,034 from the deal; it projects a profit of $4.6 million by 2015, slightly more than expected.

Deputy Chancellor Art Tyler said in a recent interview that things now are running smoothly, and that misunderstandings are unavoidable in any international operation.

“The world is not exactly flat,” he said. “It may have gotten smaller over the years, thanks to technology, but when you’re dealing with people, with communities, you can’t know everything.”

Women taught separately

Among the things HCC didn’t know until just before classes began in September 2010: The Qatari government decided male and female students would be educated separately, contrary to the five-year, $45 million contract, which called for coeducational classes.

Former employees say that was just one of the surprises when they arrived in Qatar, ranging from delays in getting textbooks to worries over their exit visas.

“Things did not go smoothly at all,” said Randi Perlman, hired to teach English to Arabic-speaking students. “There were a lot of issues that came up … that I think didn’t need to happen.”

Overseas campuses

With more than 70,000 students, HCC is one of the nation’s largest community college systems, offering lower division academic classes and workforce training.

Over the past decade, it has become increasingly involved in international ventures, as well, with projects in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Qatar.

Tyler said Qatar, located on the Persian Gulf, is a natural match for a Houston institution: energy industry ties, Qatar Airlines’ nonstop flights and the presence of the Qatar Consulate here. Six U.S. universities have campuses there, including Texas A&M.

The Methodist Hospital System has an office in the United Arab Emirates and is helping to build an ambulatory care center in the capital city of Doha.

Visa requirement

The first wave of HCC faculty and staff discovered after being hired – in some cases, after arriving in Doha – that their visas required them to get permission before leaving the country.

“That seemed to me to be a human-rights violation,” said Jan McNeil, a veteran English teacher who had previously worked in Singapore.

HCC offered interviews with three employees who worked in Qatar last year, all of whom said the visas posed no problem.

David Ross, chairman of the English as a second language and English departments in Qatar, said the system worked but acknowledged the six-day window to use the visas made timing tricky and the lack of multiple exit visas – standard for U.S. employees of American universities and companies there – provoked anxiety.

Internal emails also detail delays in preparing apartments for the expatriate employees, paying tuition at schools for their children and complaints about spotty Internet service.

“That whole piece of helping faculty and staff feel at home … was a challenge,” Tyler said.

‘A matter of learning’

Perlman, who now teaches at Texas A&M in College Station, attributed many of the challenges to poor planning, including hiring administrators – many of whom transferred from Houston – without experience working in a foreign country.

“You need people on the ground there, to help you get things done,” said Perlman. “They didn’t have that.”

Mark Weichold, dean and CEO of Texas A&M’s Qatar campus and a member of an interim board appointed last fall to govern CCQ, said missteps are to be expected.

“Watching HCC help get the community college established, some of the bumps are similar to what I’ve seen the other branch campuses (in Qatar) experience,” he said. “It’s a matter of learning how to do things in a different part of the world.”

Little control at top

But former employees and internal documents suggest HCC’s biggest problem came from a contract that authorized the Qatari government to hire the school’s chief academic official, giving HCC little control over decisions at the top.

Judith Hansen was hired by Qatar’s Supreme Education Council and served as dean until late last year.

Tyler declined to discuss the circumstances that led to Hansen’s departure in November.

Hansen, who had been forced out of the president’s job at Southwestern Oregon Community College in 2008 following three no-confidence votes by faculty and staff groups, did not respond to requests for comment.

But she was at the center of disputes over accreditation and whether CCQ could change HCC’s curriculum or claim it as its own.

She insisted on independence in an email to Tyler last winter: “The request for no assistance with (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation means there is no need for HCC to be concerned about CCQ organizational chart,” she wrote.

‘Crazy College of Qatar’

Not so fast, Spangler said after Tyler passed on the message.

“We will not accept this response,” the HCC chancellor wrote to Tyler. “She is not calling the shots.”

Cheryl Sterling, an HCC administrator now in Qatar, wrote Tyler and Spangler last spring after Tyler acknowledged no HCC credit would be awarded for the spring 2011 semester.

“If students do not receive HCC credits this Spring, we will have a major crisis (all out war),” she wrote. “The Dean has held several forums assuring them of credits. … we are known as CCQ, the Crazy College of Qatar.”

At about the same time, faculty members issued a “no confidence” vote against Hansen.

John Moretta, a faculty member now in Qatar, was in contact with Spangler before the vote.

“She avoids me because she knows … that I know what she is doing is in direct contravention of so many HCC policies,” he wrote of Hansen. “Should we proceed with the faculty-senate vote of no confidence? … Please advise.”

Spangler replied the same day.

“The short answer is yes, and we didn’t have this conversation,” she told him.

February 5, 2012 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Doha, Education, ExPat Life, Leadership, Lies, Living Conditions, Qatar, Social Issues | Leave a comment

Snake Troubles My Sleep

I was sleeping soundly, and suddenly I would be awake, hearing footsteps, the sneaking kind, like you don’t want to be heard. AdventureMan is snoring softly, so I know it is not him. Once the adrenaline stops coursing through my veins, and I calm, I remember that the weather is unseasonably warm for February and I have turned on my overhead fan, and somewhere, it must be a piece of paper rustling just a little, now and then, as the fan-induced breeze hits it.

In the morning, I laugh. I’m working on a project which includes a snake. In order to get the snake movement just right, I had to make a paper template, which is now hanging over a rod in my office. The faint rustling was the paper snake. Guess I’d better move that snake to where it can’t do any harm.


February 5, 2012 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Humor, Living Conditions | 2 Comments

“Sitting is the new Smoking”

“Sitting is the new smoking, you know?” said my good friend. No. No, I didn’t know, but it sort of doesn’t come to a surprise. What comes as a surprise learning the specific – that every hour watching TV shortens your life by 22 minutes. Whoa!


This is from the Bottom Line Daily Health News:

Shocking Stats on How TV Shortens Your Life



You know that vegging out in front of the boob tube isn’t good for you. But have you heard about a disturbing new study from Australia suggesting that TV’s negative effects on life span are even worse than you probably imagined?

For the study, researchers analyzed data from an observational survey of more than 11,000 people ages 25 and older that began in 1999, cross-referencing against mortality figures for 2008.Findings: People who spent a lifetime average of six hours per day watching television died 4.8 years sooner, on average, than people who watched no TV. Also, every single hour of TV viewed after age 25 reduced the average viewer’s life expectancy by 22 minutes!

Explanation: It is an indirect link, according to study leader J. Lennert Veerman, MD, PhD, MPH, of the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Australia. The more time a person spends watching television, the less time she (or he) has for healthy behaviors proven to promote longevity, such as exercising and socializing. Also, Dr. Veerman noted, while researchers in this study adjusted for the effects of diet quality and waist circumference, other studies show that TV viewing typically is associated with a worse diet.

Bottom line: TV’s harmful effects on longevity may be comparable to the effects of major chronic disease risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity—a fact worth remembering next time you are tempted to turn on the tube.

Source: J. Lennert Veerman, MD, PhD, MPH, is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Burden of Disease and Cost-Effectiveness in the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Australia, and leader of a study published in British Journal of Sports Medicine. 

February 5, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments