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University teachers threaten to censure Niagara College over its Saudi campuses

The Canadian Association of University Teachers is threatening to censure Niagara College if it doesn't address concerns over its Saudi Arabia campuses. But the Welland, Ont., school says it's still committed to what it's doing there.

The college says it remains committed to the work it's doing in Saudi Arabia

Niagara College spokesperson Susan McConnell says the college "remains committed" to the work it's doing in Saudi Arabia. (Niagara College)

An association of university teachers is threatening to censure Niagara College if it doesn't address concerns over its Saudi Arabia campuses. But the Welland, Ont., school says it's still committed to what it's doing there.

This is a regime that doesn't reflect what we believe in.- OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) says by operating campuses where men and women are segregated, Niagara College is using public dollars to enforce a discriminatory system.

A censure would mean academics would be asked not to accept positions at Niagara College, the CAUT says. It would also encourage academics not to speak at conferences, or accept honours or distinctions.

"It's ridiculous," said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU president. "Women can't even attend classes without the permission of a male guardian.

"This is a regime that doesn't reflect what we believe in, and our publicly funded colleges shouldn't be propping it up."

Part of Niagara College's Taif campus in Saudi Arabia. (Niagara College)

For its part, Niagara College stands behind its work there. The college operates the Taif campus, which has courses in tourism, hospitality and business.

This year, it also signed one-year agreements to operate the women's Al Ahsaa and Majma'ah campuses.

By law, college campuses in Saudi Arabia are segregated by gender.

The college is aware of CAUT's concerns, spokesperson Susan McConnell said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Niagara College acknowledges "the cultural differences" between Saudi Arabia and Canada, she said. But the college "has chosen a path of engagement rather than isolation."

Focus on the students

The focus in Saudi Arabia is "on the students," she said.

For more than eight years, she added, Niagara College has delivered diploma programs to women and men at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre.

It's not the first time Niagara College has taken fire for its work in Saudi Arabia.

In January, Local 242 OPSEU reps said faculty are uncomfortable with the school's association with Saudi Arabia, which has a "horrible" human rights record.

Faculty union vice president Ravi Ramkissoonsingh said he also wonders whether the school is getting the expected annual $8-million injection to the college budget.

The college didn't answer questions Friday regarding how much the Saudi campuses make.

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