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Texas A&M Scales Back Plans For An Israeli Campus

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Two years after announcing ambitious plans to open a branch campus in Israel, Texas A&M University is scaling back.

The university now plans to open a $5.5 million ocean research observatory in the country, but is scrapping plans for a major "Peace Campus" in Nazareth that would have offered undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees in a wide range of fields. A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said Monday that the university trimmed down the initiative because of concerns that A&M wouldn't have the freedom it needed to operate a full campus.

"We don't think we would have had a problem with resources, but at the end of the day I did not have the courage to go to [Provost] Karan Watson and say someone else was going to direct our academic programs," Sharp said. "We cannot put A&M's name out there and not have A&M call the academic shots."

Sharp did not say who would have been calling the shots, but he did say Nazareth officials were interested in the operations of the campus.

The Israeli campus was at one time estimated to cost about $200 million. University officials had planned to raise that money through private donations from around the world. Officials from Texas and Israel made a big deal of the plans, touting the proposal as the first of its kind in Israel. Sharp and then-Gov. Rick Perry flew to Israel for the announcement, which was held at the residence of Shimon Peres, then the Israeli president.

Perry said at the time that he saw the facility "as a means to preserving peace and building understanding between cultures." But on Monday, Sharp said that a smaller research center had actually been A&M's original idea. Plans for a bigger campus developed after speaking with Peres and the Israeli education minister at the time, Shay Piron, he said.

"We [are doing] absolutely what we wanted from the beginning," he said.

The center will expand A&M's reach and grow its research expenditures, he said.

“This teaching and research partnership is a critical step for Texas A&M University on its way to becoming a $1 billion-a-year research giant,” he said.

The center will be located at the University of Haifa along the Mediterranean Sea. About 20 researchers from both universities will work there in 2016, studying issues related to water supply, weather and natural resources, officials said. Certain Texas A&M undergraduate and graduate students will study there.

The two universities will also conduct a student and faculty exchange. University of Haifa leaders said the arrangement will promote the 43-year-old university and boost research already being done at their school.

“Texas A&M University is known as a global leading institution with expert faculty and programs in a range of fields that complement the efforts of the University of Haifa," said David Faragi, professor and rector at the Israeli university. "Our hope is that this effort can become a robust research and teaching program.”

Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/12/14/m-scales-back-plans-israeli-campus/.