A Moment of Change in Saudi Arabia


Talking about U.S.-based accreditation with Saudi professors, who were gracious hosts; more than half of the department's professors have Ph.D. degrees from the U.S. or U.K.

RIYADH — Wanting to transition from a petroleum-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, Saudi Arabia now allocates about 25 percent of its national budget to education.

Still, for education to flourish, cultural change also will be needed — and I was an eyewitness to one small step.

On the final day of our accreditation consultation at King Saud University, another American dean and I met with two male and two female teachers in our hotel lobby. (No photograph was taken, and one of the women wore a full veil that covered even her eyes.)

The faculty members belong to the same Mass Communication Department and had talked on the phone before, but had never met face-to-face. Other than in fields such as medicine, that isn’t acceptable in the gender-separate culture of Islamic absolutism.

It showed in a dramatic way the power of American accreditation overseas. The pursuit of accreditation created this final-day conversation after we kept asking to meet faculty from the women-only campus some 20 miles away.

In time, the men’s and women’s campuses at King Saud University are to be side-by-side. And who knows, someday men and women may be in the same classrooms studying under the same teachers. After all, a new graduate-level university in the more-cosmopolitan Jeddah has co-educational classes, to the consternation of clerics.

But for now, in Riyadh, we witnessed an important breakthrough — male and female faculty in the same Mass Communication Department seeing each other for the first time.

Explore posts in the same categories: Accreditation, Freedom of Expression, International Communications

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