Friday, August 05, 2005
Classes for Saudis separated
Gender-specific classes are given at Tech this summer for people from Saudi Arabia.
Men and women from King Abdulaziz University are taking identical faculty development courses at Tech, but meet in gender-specific classes. Tech officials said administrators from the Saudi university separated the sexes to mirror classroom settings at their home institution, which operates separate campuses for men and women.
"This is the way they teach their courses over there, and this is the way they wish their courses to be taught over here," said Tech spokesman Larry Hincker. The university chose to respect the Saudi culture "rather than impress our culture on them," he added.
Tech faculty are instructing the Saudi professors in such areas as English instruction, communications, development of online courses, distance learning and Web site development. The program is being offered through a contract arrangement between the two schools and not with state money, Hincker said.
"They're not coming over here and enrolling. These courses were designed for them to meet their needs," he said.
Sedki Riad, a professor of electrical engineering and director of the Tech College of Engineering's international programs, said Tech tries to be sensitive to the cultural and religious needs of students and faculty in Blacksburg as well as its partner institutions.
"This was a preference they had because they believe the environment was more conducive to interaction and a better environment for the two genders," said Riad, who helped negotiate the collaboration.
Although physically separated in the classroom most of the time, men and women are in constant contact with one another during class online and spend time together afterward, several of the Saudi faculty said.
Dr. Jamila Farsi said there is nothing prohibiting men and women from attending one another's classes. "We do have the choice," said Farsi, a professor of dentistry.
Hanan Ashi, a professor of communications, said the separate classes will help her develop gender-specific material for her programs in Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Adnan Merdad, a professor of general and thoracic surgery and Farsi's husband, offered a humorous explanation for the class setup.
"I want to attend classes with the boys. Jokes are better."
Riad said the partnership is part of Tech's outreach efforts to build relationships with universities around the world. The six-week professional development program is just one aspect of a newly formed relationship between Tech and King Abdulaziz University.