Bryn Mawr Considers Abu Dhabi Campus

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Bryn Mawr College has begun investigating the possibility of creating a new campus in Abu Dhabi.

According to Michelle Francl, a Chemistry Professor and head of the working group investigating this possibility, The Executive Affairs Authority (EAA) in Abu Dhabi—which advises the country on various projects, many of them educational and cultural—approached the college last Spring “to ask us to consider the possibility of establishing a campus in Abu Dhabi.”

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and the second most populous city in the country, following Dubai.

“After an initial conversation with President McAuliffe and Provost Cassidy, [the EAA] asked the college to submit a preliminary proposal for the funding that would allow us to plan a feasibility study,” Francl explained.

President McAuliffe appointed a small working group to conduct the initial fact-finding on the proposal, and write a funding request for a feasibility study.

“In other words, we’ve asked for funding to cover the work involved in figuring out precisely what information we’d need to gather in order for the college to make a decision about this opportunity.”

Among the other faculty members serving on the working group are chair of the English Department Katherine Rowe, former Provost and current philosophy professor Robert Dostal, classical and near eastern archaeology professor Peter Magee, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jenny Rickard, and John Griffith, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of the College.

According to Francl, the working group submitted the request for funding the planning of a feasibility study on September 1. “Right now” she said, “we are waiting for a response from the EAA in Abu Dhabi.”

When asked if there was any kind of timeline for the decision-making process, Francl replied that “There is no firm timetable for a decision, we are in an incredibly preliminary stage at the moment.”

The EAA’s proposal and the college’s evaluation procedure going forward were both discussed during last Wednesday’s faculty meeting. Chair of the Faculty Marc Ross said that “this could be a very interesting venture but we will not know until the feasibility work has been completed.”

Ross’ wait-and-see approach to the Abu Dhabi initiative was just one of several nuances of the discussion that were lost in third-hand accounts of the situation.

Much like a game of telephone, word of the working group’s formation spread to, and was promptly distorted by, the student body. Within a day of the faculty meeting where the formation of the working group was announced, Bryn Mawr students were expressing shock that Bryn Mawr College had secretly established a sister school in Dubai.

Bryn Mawr is not the first college to be approached with a proposal of this magnitude. In fact, in October of last year, New York University announced that it would be establishing a campus in Abu Dhabi. NYU is the first major US research institution to open a full university abroad. Other universities, like Harvard, have opened branches of individual schools; only NYU has twinned its entire undergraduate program.

According to an NYU press release, the first class of students will enroll at NYU Abu Dhabi in 2010.

According to an article in New York magazine, The University of Connecticut, which, with 1,900 students, could be considered comparable to Bryn Mawr College, ceased negotiations to open a campus in Dubai in part due to concerns about human rights violations. The article also suggested that the country’s restrictions against Israeli citizens and homosexuals would violate the college’s nondiscrimination clause.

“This opportunity presents us with a number of issues that require careful consideration and the collective input of the entire Bryn Mawr community,” Francl said. “If we are funded to proceed to the development of a feasibility study, we will be engaging in active conversations with all facets of the community—including students.”

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