JERUSALEM (AP) ― The head of Texas A&M University said Tuesday that he plans on opening a branch campus in Israel, a project meant to bring Arabs and Jews together and expand the school’s growing overseas presence.
Chancellor John Sharp said that the “peace university” will be located in Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city. He said the city, best known as the place of Jesus’ childhood, was chosen after consulting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
“He wanted another aspect added to it, that it would be a peace university, that it would be a university that would be composed of students from diverse backgrounds in Israel, Arabs and Jews in the same classroom, professors, teachers the same way,” Sharp said.
“It would be used to foster understanding and education and unity in Israel.”
Peres, a Nobel peace laureate, is a vocal advocate of coexistence between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Arab minority. While other Israeli universities have mixed student populations, the A&M campus would give a big boost to an Arab population center. Israeli Arabs often suffer from discrimination and a lack of opportunities. A site is already being explored in Nazareth.
Many American universities have collaborative relationships with Israeli universities. But branch campuses have been rare.
The project has a long way to go. Sharp said he did not know when it would open. In order to build the campus, he said, the Israeli parliament will need to pass special legislation, a process that he said could take a year.
Since the project will not use state monies, he said a special fundraising effort is also planned.
But he said Israeli officials are supportive of the project, and potential donors have already been identified.
“There are laws to be changed. There is money to be raised, but we’re very confident. I think President Peres is confident. The governor is confident,” he said.
Sharp is in Israel this week with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, his former classmate at A&M in the 1970s. A signing ceremony with Peres and Texas officials is scheduled at the president’s residence in Jerusalem Wednesday.
Sharp said it is too early to say how many students will study at the university, or which specific programs will be offered. He said he envisioned a research center that collaborates with both Texas A&M’s main campus in College Station as well as with other Israeli universities.
“We intend to produce here a university of the first class, just as we have in College Station,” he said.
“We feel we can produce something special, not just for Texas A&M but for the state of Israel as well.”