Students concerned about NU-Q’s portrayal in Evanston student publications
April 1, 2017
Students at Northwestern University in Qatar are voicing concerns about the portrayal of NU-Q in the Evanston campus’ student publications after one of them recently published a story on NU-Q with incorrect information.
On Feb. 27, North by Northwestern, a Northwestern University student publication in Evanston, Illinois, published a story about budget cuts at NU-Q. The story claimed that following Qatar Foundation budget cuts, NU-Q laid off staff, reduced printer services to students and cut the student employment program, yet none of this occurred at NU-Q. NU-Q’s marketing department reached out to North by Northwestern for a retraction and the story was eventually taken down.
This was the second major story about NU-Q that appeared in the Evanston campus student publications in a span of two weeks. On Feb. 15, The Daily Northwestern published an in-depth feature about one NU-Q student’s mental health crisis as a vehicle to highlight the differences between the Evanston and Doha campuses. Both stories triggered debates at NU-Q as several students and staff members, including those quoted in the articles, felt the stories did not provide an accurate picture of NU-Q and were underreported.
“The story in North by Northwestern was a surprise. The reporter never contacted us – or anyone in the communications office in Evanston – to seek clarification on issues raised by NU-Q students,” said Nanci Martin, director of strategic media and marketing at NU-Q. “Unfortunately, the NU-Q students [quoted in the article] had their facts wrong and, as a result, a story appeared online that was factually incorrect.”
The North by Northwestern story correctly discussed QF budget cuts as the result of diminishing oil prices and Qatar’s budget deficit. However, it mistook its impact on NU-Q, alleging “the university is facing layoffs, cuts to programs and a decrease in student services.” The story wrongly claimed layoffs in the NU-Q library staff and reduced printer services to students.
“I tried to make the story about students’ perspectives, but that ended up backfiring a bit because through all of the editing the story went through, some things ended up being misinterpreted,” said David Gleisner, a reporter at North by Northwestern who wrote the story. “I definitely could’ve done a better job reporting. Lesson learned.”
On March 30, North by Northwestern republished the article with new and verified information.
The article by The Daily Northwestern, on the other hand, discussed topics such as government paid tuition for Qatari students and Qatari laws. Several readers at NU-Q felt these were extraneous and unrelated details to the purpose of the story.
“The part about mental health was good but it should have been left at that. They shouldn’t have commented on anything else,” said Omar Al-Ansari, a communication junior at NU-Q, who was quoted in the article. “They also should not have interviewed other students without telling them what the real purpose of the story was.”
Some NU-Q students quoted in The Daily Northwestern piece said they were not given a clear idea of the topic of the story when they were being interviewed, resulting in their surprise when they saw their quotes in the article about the mental health crisis of a student.
“I was misled by the reporters when asked for the topic of the story. The Daily Northwestern reporter said they were writing a story on the relationship between Evanston and Qatar and they asked me about my experiences on both campuses without a single question on mental health incidents, services, facilities, etc.,” said Vibhav Gautam, a communication senior at NU-Q who was initially quoted in the article.
Gautam contacted The Daily Northwestern about his issue with the article, requesting to retract his part, which was then removed from the article.
“The student felt they were not informed about the mental health aspect of the story before the student did the interview with one of our reporters. And so we thought it was fair to remove the name because doing so did not detract anything from the story,” Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Northwestern Peter Kotecki told The Daily Q.
According to Gautam, his other issue with the article was that it tried to address too many issues related to NU-Q in one article, resulting in inadequate discussion of those issues.
“[The article] included issues related to Qatar, QF and NU-Q, when it was supposed to report on mental health facilities in Evanston and Qatar. There wasn’t an honest comparison between similar issues on both campuses,” added Gautam. “It failed to investigate issues at NU-Q without any references to the reality of similar incidents in Evanston.”
Nicholas Wong, a journalism senior at NU-Q, who said he wrote to The Daily Northwestern with his reservations with the article, agreed with Gautam.
“I simply stated my case to them in a calm manner and discussed that one of the biggest things is that they tackled a lot of issues the Qatar campus faces in too short of piece. That is, they tried to cover things that would deserve many articles for each topic, and they tried to cover it in one story with [the student whose case was discussed in the story] as the vehicle of sentiment,” said Wong.
According to Kotecki, the purpose of the story was to show that while many in Northwestern administration in Evanston see NU-Q as an extension of the university instead of as a branch campus, the two can’t always operate with the same policies and procedures.
“The story did not mean to use [one student’s] story as a comprehensive example for how NU-Q handles student’s mental health issues, but we did think it pointed out some differences between how the two campuses operate,” added Kotecki.
Including other issues related to NU-Q outside of mental health were important for The Daily Northwestern’s audience, said Kotecki.
“A large part of our readers are Evanston students and faculty, so we also thought it was important to talk about the beginnings of NU-Q, as well as some of the debate that’s going on about challenges in running an international campus,” Kotecki said.
Gleisner cited not having proper channels of communication between the two campuses and the physical and time differences as challenges in reporting on NU-Q from Evanston.
“There isn’t a whole lot of awareness of what NU-Q is like. I would say most students here know that Northwestern has a campus in Qatar, but not many know why [or] what goes on there,” said Gleisner. “Writing about the budget was especially tricky, because clear information on the budget is impossible to find, given the fact that Qatar is an authoritarian state and Northwestern is a private university.”
Gleisner said he hopes the university can do more to connect the two campuses.
“Sure, their [Evanston students’] understanding of NU-Q is very limited and very skewed, but it’s our job to make that better understood and more widespread known, and not to get upset about it and start creating a bigger divide between the campuses,” added Wong.
Correction: April 1, 2017
An earlier version of this article misspelled Peter Kotecki’s last name. It has since been updated with the correct spellings.