Sunday, January 22, 2012

Teaching legal skills in Qatar - Part 3

Here's the third installment from our guest blogger Professor Rob Hudson on teaching legal skills in the Middle East (click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2).  In this final post, Professor Hudson describes what it's like to be a faculty member and law librarian at Qatar University.

The first point about being faculty here at the College of Law in Qatar is that there are almost no Qataris on the faculty. All but two of the law professors are from somewhere else and most are on three year contracts, although extensions exist, but tenure does not exist. The faculty is multinational and multi-lingual so that we have our faculty meetings in a room with simultaneous translation through wireless headsets. Many of the faculty are from Egypt or Lebanon and are on leave from faculty status in those countries. Others, including Dean Hassan Okour, are from Jordan. The Dean has a Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Ghana, Canada, Germany, France, the US, and the UK are part of the international mix too. The majority of faculty are men. The degrees of faculty at the College of Law include many PhDs and LLMs. Few have a JD or LLB as their terminal degree. The Faculty of Law split from the Sharia Faculty to be autonomous in 2006.

Qatar University is investing in major new facilities as part of the strategic plan and international accreditation efforts. Faculty at the College of Law benefited with a new building, shared with the business school,  and a new library this year.  The accreditation efforts of QU College of Law are focused on both SACS and the ABA from the United States. The ABA standards are entirely self-imposed as no avenue for accreditation outside of the US currently exists.  I have joint status at the College of Law and the Library and as law librarian take the Chapter Six requirements from the ABA to heart as I develop the law collection from minimal to functional.  Significant differences from US law schools are that half of the classes are taught in Arabic and no American law classes are in the curriculum at all. Classes are being proposed in all areas of legal studies, including advanced legal research, so the curriculum is still evolving.  Grants are heavily supported by the University and research is gaining emphasis in a traditionally instruction-driven academic environment.

The work here includes faculty housing, family benefits including schooling, work permits for family members, and travel.  My family is with me from the US and my oldest girl is in an international school. One of the greatest benefits to me as an American expat is to see the way my children are enriched culturally by living in an international destination like Doha. Faculty housing is often in gated compounds. I exercised the option to live off-compound at the Pearl to be closer to work and the Gulf. Faculty and their families here need to spend great amounts of time establishing Qatari permanent residency and the University works hard to make the process go fast. This includes University buses and intake specialists that will move a new faculty member from appointment to appointment at government departments. I still think it took me three months before I got a Qatari driver’s license! Return flights to Miami for my family are part of the yearly compensation and we have enjoyed trips to Malaysia and the UAE this year.

I like the schedule. The work week is Sunday to Thursday and the working day typically lasts from 7am to 2 pm. I go to church on Friday mornings with my family! I dislike the traffic and consider it to be the only danger next to the dust in a country ranking so high in quality of life.

For a US law librarian like me the idea that text is read right to left in Arabic, books open from the right cover, and the indexes are on the left is difficult. I still open books only to find I am looking at the back cover. Accessing Arabic books correctly on the shelf means that stacks and call numbers progress from right to left and from bottom to top for some of the collection. With the new library at Qatar University and our move in February 2012 to that facility we are faced with the dilemma of interfiling English and Arabic books while each demand completely opposite organization.  Also, the entire collection – English, Arabic – is in the process of a reclassification to LC from Dewey so we are quite busy. The ILS used is Millennium like at many US law schools but it is so recent the library has grand wooden card catalogs in the hall of the staff area.

Technology is good here in Qatar. Electronic resources are being integrated  by Qatar University with Blackboard use mandatory for all classes. Databases for legal research are ideally both in English and Arabic for navigation and content. Arabic text is best displayed in PDF as it often distorts in other formats like HTML. Few databases live up to this ideal.  Very few law students carry laptops here although all have smartphones. The challenge for skills instructors like me is to persuade the students to use mobile technologies like iPad and Blackberry and schedule classes in the instructional labs with computers. Blackberry Messenger is more effective to communicate with law students than email!

My struggle is to make legal research skills and library services relevant for the law students. Workshops and classes seem to be poorly attended and I wonder sometimes if I am making a difference.  My heavy John Wayne American accent probably does not help and I wish I spoke Arabic. Fortunately I am integrated into the writing courses and provide assessment for 15% of the grade in legal research and writing. I am developing a reading knowledge of Arabic, slowly. 

Qatar is less known than neighboring Dubai but becoming the economic and tourist hub for the region. There is no Great Recession here. The dynamic is very interesting and I enjoy living and working here.  The University is creating an international law school for the region .

My experiences are included on the Qatar University Law Librarian blog  .

Dr. Rob Hudson

Lecturer/Law Librarian

Qatar University, College of Law

PO Box 2713

Doha, Oatar

Thanks, Rob, for an interesting series of posts. You're welcome back here anytime.


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