A Learning Moment

The university encountered a situation last week associated with a professional development program offered under contract to a group of 60 faculty members from King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. The faculty members are participating in a six week program modeled after our popular Faculty Development Institute. In addition to hands-on training in the latest instructional technology, the faculty members are improving their English language skills in special classes. The program is a reflection of our growing involvement in global partnerships.

It was brought to our attention that two identical computer laboratory sections associated with the program were separated into a men's and a women's section. Other elements of the program are not separated by gender. King Abdulaziz University developed the class rosters, which is a common practice with externally funded continuing education classes. The visitors believed that the learning environment in the computer laboratory would be more relevant in identical but separate sections since the faculty work separately in their home university.

Separation by gender in an instructional setting is not compatible with Virginia Tech policies and procedures. There is clearly a disconnect between our fundamental commitment to non-discrimination based on gender and our commitment to a climate for work and learning based on mutual respect and understanding.

We regret that our internal review process did not anticipate this situation and develop a reasonable alternative in partnership with our visitors. As the Roanoke Times indicated in a recent editorial, this was a "missed opportunity" to provide our visitors with full exposure to our educational practices.

We have taken actions that respond to the issues. One of the organizers met with the visiting faculty and explained the situation so that our visitors could gain an insight into American policies and the importance of non-discrimination in our laws and culture. All participants were informed that they are free to be in either section.

Internally, we have focused on how we will proceed from this point forward. We will not compromise on the fundamental issue of non-discrimination. We will ensure that prospective visitors to the campus and course organizers are fully aware of our policies and we will work to promote cultural sensitivity and respect within our policies. We intend to continue our growing efforts to build global partnerships and we will learn new things about ourselves and others in the process. Our experience in the last week has provided us with a 'learning moment' and we will move forward.

Mark G. McNamee
University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

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