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.
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.