We painted our office orange and maroon

I found an interesting story concerning my alma mater, but first, some background about its collaboration with King Abdulaziz University:

Ongoing discussions linking the two universities in the areas of distance and distributed learning (eLearning) and engineering were established by Sedki Riad, professor of electrical engineering and director of International Programs in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, and Tom Wilkinson, director of Virginia Tech’s Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning (IDDL).

As a first step, 60 KAU faculty members will arrive in Blacksburg this summer for a series of professional development activities that will be developed and delivered by Virginia Tech’s English Department, Communications Department, Faculty Development Institute, the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning, and the English Language Institute. KAU faculty will participate in two of four planned development programs: 1) English instruction, 2) communications instruction, 3) basic and intermediate computer and web skill development, and 4) designing, developing and delivering eLearning courses. Family members accompanying KAU faculty also will have an opportunity to participate in activities at the English Language Institute.

I hadn’t heard anything about this when it happened in March, but I wasn’t involved in any of those programs while in school, so I’m not shocked that this missed my radar. It does sound interesting, though. Any program that expands Virginia Tech’s influence further is probably a good endeavor. Sharing with a culture we don’t normally think of when discussing higher education should be a bonus.

I say “probably” and “should be” because, today, I came across this article. The summer classes mentioned in the original article are taking place in Blacksburg, which I would suspect would follow our ideas of educational instruction, more or less. That’s not occurring. Consider:

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.

Why would Virginia Tech segregate the male and female faculty? We don’t segregate classes like that in the United States, at least not public universities, which Virginia Tech is. I’m disappointed that Virginia Tech would do this. I’ve always believed that Virginia Tech is a wonderful institution. In six years spent in Blacksburg, I never witnessed any form of discrimination. I hope that the details aren’t as frustrating as they seem.

Of course there is backlash coming from some of the Virginia Tech faculty because of these classes.

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.”

Wait, what? Why is that environment hostile only to women? What about the men? Viewed from the context of the Saudis, yes, it’s specifically aimed at women. But viewed from the context of us, I’d consider it discriminatory to both the men and women involved. Unless Prof. Coupey is implying that men can learn from women in an educational environment but that the reverse isn’t true. I wonder, but I would still expect her to defend against all discrimination, regardless of gender.

In response to complaints, Virginia Tech “has made the course segregation optional,” which is amusing because of this additional information, clarifying what was implied earlier:

While the program was designed by Tech staff, administrators with King Abdulaziz University separated the classes by gender.

Tech subsequently offered to make the classes co-ed, however the Saudi faculty said they preferred the current set-up because most of their classrooms at home are single-sex. Separate classes also allows them to tailor the content to their needs, several Saudi faculty have said.

Saudi faculty have repeatedly stressed that they had chosen to separate by gender. Many of the professors earned their advanced degrees at American and European institutions and are therefore comfortable in co-ed settings, faculty said.

There is this additional detail:

King Abdulaziz University paid Virginia Tech $246,000 to design and operate the faculty development program this summer.

Fascinating. I’m still disappointed (only a tiny bit), but I’m not offended. Should I be? Perhaps I’m reading too much into the $246,000 payment, but it seems to me that King Abdulaziz University paid for a product which Virginia Tech agreed to create. Within reason, of course, King Abdulaziz University gets to set the requirements for the course. And if the students self-select a segregation plan? I’m under-whelmed by the need for outrage, but that’s because I think the facts suggest a simple solution. This isn’t the standard to which Virginia Tech should hold itself, so it should not have set the classes up this way. But it did. I see no harm in finishing this program with the optional, self-segregating plan. Next time, think wiser and clearer before setting up a program like this. If a university such as King Abdulaziz University refuses, don’t do the deal. Two-hundred-forty-six thousand dollars isn’t that much money. Live happily ever after. Simple.

And yet, it’s never that simple, is it? In a scene straight out of PCU, the outgoing director of Tech’s Women’s Studies Program offered a gem quote detailing how every event can be used for petty political point-scoring. Enjoy.

“I would say this demonstrates the insensitivity of the university administration to the experience of the women on campus,” [Bernice] Hausman said.

It’s visiting Saudi women, are you paying attention? Not every slight to a small group is a global “screw you” from the world to the women on campus. I have little doubt that $246,000 will now have to be re-directed to sensitivity training classes on the Virginia Tech campus for all administrators involved. I’ll take Ms. Hausman in the office pool as to who will teach the classes as an independent consultant/qualified expert?