Gender-Split Saudi Faculty at Virginia Tech Controversial

At least one member of the Virginia Tech faculty is upset that her school is hosting a gender-segregated summer program for visiting faculty from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University.

Gender-Split Saudi Faculty Roils Va. Tech (AP)

The creation of gender-segregated classes at Virginia Tech for visiting faculty from Saudi Arabia is drawing complaints from professors, who say a state-supported school shouldn’t promote discrimination.

King Abdulaziz University paid Virginia Tech $246,000 to design and operate the faculty development program this summer.
The courses include topics such as Web site development and online instruction, but in keeping with the preferences of the Saudi university, the university created separate classes for the approximately 30 male and 30 female faculty members.

Eloise Coupey, an associate professor of marketing at the Virginia Tech, filed a complaint with the school Tuesday alleging the single-sex classes created a hostile environment for women. “The presence of these segregated classes on campus indicates to me that the university doesn’t place a strong enough value on women’s rights,” Coupey said Wednesday. “This makes me feel that the university holds me in less regard than my male counterparts.”

Although I can understand Coupey’s concerns, it’s not entirely unreasonable for Virginia Tech to accomodate the cultural needs of the sponsor and target of the classes. It would different if this were part of the regular curriculum but this is a special summer training program paid for and exclusively attended by associates of King Abdulaziz University. Had Virginia Tech not acceded to this custom, the KAU folks would presumably have simply gone elsewhere.

If changing the Saudi mindset toward women is a goal–and it should be–then this exposure of their elites to American culture is a start. Having them integrated into existing workshops with American faculty members would, obviously, be preferable. This is, however, better than nothing. Nothing was the alternative.

FILED UNDER: Education, Environment, Middle East, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    The latest example of Western principles rolling over in their confrontation with Saudi cash.

    What if the Saudis wanted blacks put in a separate class? Would that be cool too?

  2. James Joyner says:

    It’s their class. I don’t believe they have any black people, though.

  3. Meezer says:

    If this were a private conference center, I would have little problem with it. However, we are told ad nauseum that our Universities stand for gender rights, diversity, etc. I am about as far from a radical feminist as you can find today, and this just feels wrong.

  4. Richard Gardner says:

    I note in the article VA Tech “has allowed the classes to continue but has made the course segregation optional.” Not sure what that means! For the visiting faculty (students), or the Tech faculty (instructors).

    I also wonder if the sex segregation included the instructors – same course material, but women taught by women only, men by men? If this is the case, I can see a valid complaint by the instructors.

    As for blacks in Saudi Arabia, there are quite a few, even some in the ibn Saud family (or half-black). Saudi Arabia officially outlawed slavery in 1962, and many of the slaves were from Africa.

    There also may be non-Saudi faculty members who are black, since the pay is probably better there, than in say, Chad or Uganda.

  5. Abdullah says:

    In Saudi Arabia we are accoustomed to this.Boys has their schools and so do girls. No one is complaining. Everyone likes living this way. We want it like this. IT IS OUR CHOICE. Don’t host our students. BUT DON’T ASK US TO CHANGE OUR VALUES, pleaz.

  6. Mike says:

    This article gives you a better idea of what really happened.

    Virgina Tech did not set up the rosters for the class, the Saudis did. The Saudis enrolled enough people to create two sections of the class, and then set up the rosters segregating them by gender.

  7. Otto Preminger says:

    The university mentions in a statement on its web site that “the visitors believed that the learning environment in the computer laboratory would be more relevant in identical but separate sections….”

    See – “identical but separate”!

    They are not saying “separate but equal” like in Brown vs. Board of Education. There’s no comparison. How can you possibly see any similarity?

    Anyway, Saudi Arabia is our friend, even if they’re not a democracy.

    And anyway, we need their oil!

  8. Rashid says:

    I am from Saudi Arabia and live in Arizona…I disgree the V.Tech..they can send people to teach them in saudi arabia…it is hypacracy..go to London, Cairo. other non saudi cities and you will see male and female mixing..chatting and dancing…By the way we have black and we refer to them by their name not color….I think liberated people should take stand…it is saud Najd culture and not the rule of Islam..take a look at more than 40 Muslim countries and they are all mix accept saudi arabia…it is funny..Money can Buy everything…