A U.S. Journalism Prof Teaches in Saudi Arabia

By Hartman, John | Editor & Publisher, May 21, 2008 | Go to article overview

A U.S. Journalism Prof Teaches in Saudi Arabia


Hartman, John, Editor & Publisher


Last November, I got an email in inviting me to apply for a visiting professorship at King Saud University (KSU). I had never heard of the university nor had I ever heard of Professor Ali Alkarni, who sent the invitation email.

An internet search revealed both to be legitimate, so I applied -- I am a journalism professor at Central Michigan University and a resident of Bowling Green, Ohio. -- and was offered the position.

I began to prepare my major address on trends in U.S. journalism and material for my seminars with KSU students and journalists from the Al-Jazirah newspaper, a daily Arabic publication based in Riyadh and the sponsor of my visiting professorship. (By the way, the newspaper is notaffiliated with the Al-Jazeera satellite television news channel.)

My academic title, Al-Jazirah Newspaper Chair for International Journalism, looked very nice on the banner behind me when I gave my speech on trends.

Located in the capital city of Riyadh, the King Saud University campus -- for men only -- is massive. It is all in sandstone and gives off a gold hue. All Saudi men wear a white robe and a headdress. Most headdresses include awhite and red scarf. Dormitories are adjacent to the campus, not part of it like most U.S. universities.

On April 26 during my first visit to King Saud University, I was given an office in a building that is not nearly as fancy inside as its exterior. But I was grateful and it has the internet. Now I could make up for my busted Blackberry and find out what had been going on in the world while I was out of touch.

The next day I gave my speech on "Trends in American Journalism." The bad news, of course, is that young adults avoid print newspapers and are not spending enough time on newspaper websites to make up for it. More bad news is that young adults prefer to get their news, when interested, in a first person, opinionated style as one would get from TV news or bloggers. These trends do not seem so far along in Saudi Arabia.

On April 27, I conducted my first seminar on basic news writing. Male students attended in person -- and female students at the Girls' University a few miles away participated by closed circuit television.

Later in the week, I was taken to the office of the rector of King Saud University, Dr. Abdullah Al-Othman. He is the equivalent to the president of an American university. Young, energetic, in his 40s and on the job for about a year, the rector is intent upon turning King Saud University into a world class university and increasing its graduate programs to make up 40 percent of the student body.

He said KSU intends to be the equivalent of Ohio State University by 2020 and the equivalent of Harvard by 2040. "Our initials will also stand for Knowledge Society University," he said in perfect English.

We talked about research projects of common interest, particularly those regarding youth and young adults (one of my newspaper research themes). He expressed concern about the way U.S. citizens perceive his country andsuggested research projects in that realm. He asked my views on U.S. presidential race. I said I favored Barack Obama and that I thought Obama had a more magnanimous view of the rest of the world than the incumbent and his opponents.

I added that Obama appears to inspire the younger generation in much the same way as John F. …

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