Texas A&M University has announced plans to open a $6 million marine research center in partnership with the University of Haifa. The new center has replaced plans for a $200 million “peace university” in the Arab-Israeli city of Nazareth.
The research center, to be called the “Texas A&M – University of Haifa Eastern Mediterranean Observatory” (“THEMO”), is expected to open in February and will contribute to critical environmental projects being conducted by Israel and A&M researchers along the Mediterranean Sea.
Originally, in October 2013, A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and former Texas Governor Rick Perry announced plans to build a satellite location of the university in Nazareth with the intent of uniting Jews and Arabs. The plans were approved by then-Israeli President Shimon Peres, a major advocate for peace and coexistence between Jews and Arabs.
Sharp told AP last week that the plans were changed because political officials in Nazareth wanted to control purpose and direction of the campus. “We’re not going to put our name on something we didn’t have total control over,” he said.
At a recent news conference, Sharp expanded on this point. “I think we can say that we did everything that we could in good faith and good form or fashion to pursue that. At the end of the day, I didn’t have the courage to go to (A&M Provost) Karan Watson and say someone else was going to dictate her academic programs – that was just too dangerous for me. We can’t put Texas A&M out there and not call all of the academic shots.”
According to Sharp, the altered plans to partner with the University of Haifa are consistent with A&M University’s original intent. “This agreement is in keeping with what A&M wanted all along in Israel: It is about teaching and research and it is just the beginning of what this relationship is going to be,” he explained.
The University of Haifa, located some 30 miles from Nazareth, was a natural alternative for A&M University to partner with. “We’re starting with a $6 million project there but I don’t have any doubt that it’ll grow exponentially over the years,” Sharp told AP. “They don’t call it ‘startup nation’ for nothing.”