Saudi Arabian University Promotes Gender Equality September 25, 2009

Saudi Arabian University Promotes Gender Equality

I teach math and I work with a lot of students who struggle with it… Especially in Geometry, when they have to do proofs.

But when students complete their first *really* basic proof on their own, I’m pretty damn proud. Even though they have a long way to go before they’re doing “real” math, it’s a big step, and I feel happy for them.

I guess I feel the same way about the brand new King Abdullah Science and Technology University in Saudi Arabia.

It’s making headlines for things the rest of us have already accomplished, but it’s a big step for them:

The conservative country unveiled on Wednesday its first ever fully coed university, the King Abdullah Science and Technology University (KAUST). In the past, women in the notoriously gender restrictive kingdom were only allowed to take classes separately from men.

[T]he new university will not require women to wear veils or cover their faces, and they will be able to mix freely with men.

They will also be allowed to drive, a taboo in a country where women must literally take a back seat to their male drivers.

The success of the university may depend in part on how well these ideas spread of the rest of the country and the region — probably ways down the road. It’s a very exciting and promising beginning, though.

(Thanks to Donna for the link!)

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  • Climbing Mount Improbable?

  • Valdyr

    Predicted follow-up headline: Saudi Arabian University to Close Immediately, Top Cleric Says

    Sub-header: How the Hell Did My Name Get Attached to This Project, King Wonders Aloud

  • Lynet

    Yeah, I heard about the King Abdullah University. They’re trying to recruit from American universities to teach there. Maybe they’re even trying to recruit women? I mean, I think you’d have to be insane to want to live there as a woman, but maybe they’re just that hopeful.

    If so, it really says something about women’s equality that we can be good enough scientists that they’ll bend the misogynistic rules to get us to work for them!

  • Hopefully once the Saudi women get the taste for freedom, this will just be the tip of the iceberg.

  • Hopefully it isn’t just a farce.

  • JJR

    Hopefully the first crack in the dam…

    On a purely personal note, I always sucked at math in school (especially algebra), except, curiously enough, for Geometry proofs, which I sailed right through with consistent “A’s”…weird, eh?

  • CatBallou

    This is astonishing! But it’s also more evidence of the divide between the Saudi rulers and the Saudi clerics.

  • muggle

    Baby steps, it starts with baby steps. This is a good sign. I don’t expect to see the place Westernized in my life time but this is a good beginning.

  • bigjohn756

    Cool! If this keeps up, they will eventually be just like Jordan.

  • Richard Wade

    The inclusion of women is encouraging. I wonder how they will handle teaching evolution. My impression is that in general, Muslim clerics oppose it. The KAUST website lists these advanced bioscience courses:

    Core Master’s Courses:

    * B 201 Biophysics (2-0-2)
    * B 202 Plant Biology (2-1-3)
    * B 203 Plant and Microbial Development (2-1-3)
    * B 204 Genomics (2-1-3)
    * B 205 Protein Structure and Function (2-1-3)
    * B 206 Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology (2-1-3)
    * B 207 Physiology and Metabolic Engineering (2-1-3)
    * B 208 Biochemistry (2-1-3)
    * B 209 Molecular Genetics (2-1-3)
    * B 298 Graduate Seminar (variable credit)
    * B 299 Directed Research (variable credit)

    Advanced Courses:

    * B 301 Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (2-1-3)
    * B 302 Visualization of Biological Systems (2-1-3)
    * B 398 Graduate Seminar (variable credit)
    * B 399 Directed Research (variable credit)

    I wonder how these classes will deal with evolution. A search of the website for “evolution” turned up only two references to biological evolution, both the same phrase in the scientific background of one of the professors.

  • nani

    that’s pretty awesome.

    but the main reason i wanted to post in here is to say that i love proofs ^_^

  • Elis

    The skeptic in me is highly skeptical; being native of Saudi Arabia I can’t help thinking there must be a catch if this is indeed true. Maybe women are separated by a wall, but are in the same lecture hall. Maybe what they mean by no veil is no full face cover (still have to wear Hijab.) Maybe what they mean by driving is driving inside the campus only. I just don’t see a positive leap like this taking place.

    I’m reminded by the theater they opened in Jeddah, at first it seems an improvement on the ban of cinema, until you realize they can only show movies that adhere to Islamic principles.

    Ahhh, I hope I’m wrong.

    Richard, I went through the Saudi school system some 20 years ago, we were taught about Darwin as misguided and evolution as a lie. Biology textbooks contain true information mixed in with creation wording. Evolution is not allowed. I don’t know how the higher education system handles it, but I’m confident it’s the same.

  • Richard Wade


    Richard, I went through the Saudi school system some 20 years ago, we were taught about Darwin as misguided and evolution as a lie. Biology textbooks contain true information mixed in with creation wording. Evolution is not allowed. I don’t know how the higher education system handles it, but I’m confident it’s the same.

    If that is so, then those advanced bioscience courses listed in their curriculum will be a joke and a farce. Evolution unifies biology and helps it all make sense in very powerful ways. Without a clear understanding of evolution, people intelligent enough to be studying at that level won’t be able to make any sense of what they observe in genetics, development or any of the rest of it. Their alternative hypotheses for what they observe will be silly gibberish. They’ll keep inadvertently rediscovering evolution because its evidence is right in front of them, but they’ll have to keep dismissing it.

    Even if they do secretly understand it but they have to pretend to disregard it, their research papers, theses and dissertations will be written to please committees charged with upholding “Islamic principles.” Their work won’t make any sense to any bioscientists outside of KAUST, and the rest of the world will have no use for it. They’ll become intellectually insular and the department will eventually close.

    In the meantime, the university is going to have graduate and post-graduate students suffering from symptoms of multiple personality disorder. They’ll either go completely psychotic, or change their majors to math, or emigrate to the West as intellectual refugees.

  • If the Saudis don’t teach evolution at the post-graduate level, then other countries will not have to worry about competition in the biotech field from the Saudis. Imagine a company whose employees are limited (by belief and education) to only apply techniques (or take advantage of that part of nature) that conforms to Islamic Law. Perhaps economic pressures and the Saudi national pride to actually be a multigenerous player in the world will eventually force them to see the world as it is and start to view Islamic Law as only part of their cultural heritage but not as “God’s will”. Of course this will take a while.

  • stokesi

    From my uni in London this was marketed to mechanical, material and chemical engineering third or foruth year students. There was a bursary for one year for people who wanted to apply for a masters there. There wasn’t any particular clamour to get to the bio sciences departments. This university seems like a way of funding graduates directly into oil, civil engineering and IT for the government. It doesn’t look like they’re that concerned with research into many other projects from what I read in the brochure. However, this may have been just due to the marketing but not many other departments had similar material handed out. They will certainly grab biochem and medical students though.

    Speaking as someone who has lived in the middle east for ten years (not Saudi but the UAE) and then moved to the UK, this isn’t going to work as people think it might. I don’t think there’ll be much adherence to ‘Islamic principles’ so much as trying to retain graduates from the under 30s who go overseas for university because it’s so desperately boring and the culture there for Saudis is stifling.

    The brain drain is huge, I don’t think there was one person from my graduating class at high school who didn’t want to get the hell out of Dubai, let alone Saudi. We’re talking a graduating class that had over forty different nationalities and I think most of us went to the USA or the UK. It’s boring unless you’re working, it’s hard to make friends regardless of where you come from generally due to cliques.

    The focus on engineering shows that, it also shows a sort of way of keeping to the same sort of power structures found in traditional engineering companies. I think they will teach evolutionary biology but in the context of ‘It was started off by X’ and then not mention it again. Or they might possibly teach it in full if they’re allowed to work without the religious police interfering.

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