Future program in Rwanda merits serious discussion
The Carnegie Mellon administration announced this week that it will continue its international expansion by starting a Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program in Rwanda. However, we are concerned that the university is spreading itself too thin and will be unable to provide the same caliber of education when it expands to Rwanda. Additionally, we are unsure if the investment of resources, time, and personnel will be well spent starting a program that might not last more than 10 years, depending on the economic and political factors that inevitably come with building a program in a country like Rwanda.
There are also political and ethical issues to take into account when considering a partnership with President Paul Kagame’s Rwanda. Carnegie Mellon’s desire to associate itself with a country where human rights violations are common, and freedom of speech is far from universal, is off-putting. The majority of news and media is tightly controlled by the government. According to the World Report, two independent newspapers were suspended as recently as 2010 prior to the Rwandan presidential election and two journalists from the newspaper Umurabyo were arrested and given sentences of seven to 17 years in prison.
Universities are supposed to be areas of open discussion and debate; will Carnegie Mellon’s Rwanda program have the same intellectual freedom as we do here? Can a president who imprisons or kills journalists be trusted to allow the dissent that a university requires to flourish?
We cannot say, however, that because Rwanda has human rights issues, its people do not deserve to be educated. The Rwandan people — as well as students from nearby countries — deserve access to advanced technical degrees. The classes and skills proposed in the Rwanda program would indeed help younger generations of Africans build technical competencies that would benefit their continent and aid in global-market competition. Carnegie Mellon’s presence in Rwanda may also persuade other universities to install similarly backed programs in sub-Saharan Africa. But the effectiveness of these programs might be limited by the students that are accepted; if the price of tuition is the same as it is here and at the Qatar campus (around $45,000 a year according to the admissions website), only a select group of wealthier Rwandans will be able to afford to go to Carnegie Mellon’s Rwanda program.
The student body needs to be informed and consulted well in advance on such momentous ventures as a Carnegie Mellon-Rwanda program. It isn’t that we are wholly against starting a program in Rwanda, but as of now we do not have the full picture: Questions need to be answered by the administration and campus-wide discussions need to take place. Student groups such as Amnesty International, ALLIES, International Justice Mission, International Relations Organization, CMU Politics, and Young African Leaders Alliance should all be interested and want to have a voice in the university’s possible partnership with Rwanda’s government. There are questions yet to be answered by the administration as we boldly launch programs on yet another continent.
The Carnegie Mellon administration has made information regarding advancements in Rwanda easily accessible to those who sought it out. Similarly, I firmly believe that Carnegie Mellon’s global initiative is something to be celebrated, especially since the school is permanently establishing itself as the first major university to build a program not only in Rwanda, but in Africa as a whole. I agree that it is the administration’s responsibility to inform students of its decision, especially major and controversial decisions like this one; however, opinions regarding the stability of Rwanda are split just like the opinions of The Tartan’s Editorial Board members.
Furthermore, while the board may still be weighing pros and cons, I have faith that Carnegie Mellon’s Rwanda campus will greatly aid the country in its reparative state. Graduates from our master’s program in Rwanda will be the individuals who continually enhance the local economy, run government facilities, and advance national technology. Personally, I applaud President Cohon and the administration for following through with such a momentous commitment and for evaluating external criticism, but remaining firm.