THE SPINE DECEMBER 1, 2007
There were two ads on the home page of the week-end Ha'aretz from King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, a graduate research university. KAUST, as it is called, was established with a $10 billion gift from the present monarch of Saudi Arabia. It is planned to open in Riyadh in the year 2009, inshallah.I should have posted this Spine yesterday so that I could link to the ad right then and there. Alas, it is no longer on the site. But believe me it was there...Did it get there because of a mechanical Google formula that placed it automatically on the basis of assumed syncretism? Maybe. But still...The ad was addressed to "exceptional students from Saudi Arabia, region and the world." The ground breaking took place in October, and was addressed by Charles Vest, president emeritus of M.I.T., and other academics, including a few women, who presumably did not have to wear a burkha at the inaugural sessions.King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dharan must be quaking, because a governing partnership has been planned for KAUST and ARAMCO, the oil company that runs it, as well. It may seem odd that an oil company should preside over universities. But -- a very interesting fact -- all of Dharan operates without the rules that constrain people's lives the rest of the country. Women drive in Dharan, guests are served "cousin of vodka" and "cousin of scotch," as I was on my visit, there are no religious police swatting your ass on the street if you haven't fallen to your knees for prayer etc, etc. It is said that KAUST will not only have women students, as King Fahd University in Riyadh does on a different campus connected by cable to the male campus, but its women students will actually sit in the same classrooms and laboratories as men. Not so different from how Radcliffe was run until the Second World War. The Harvard professors would give their lectures in the Yard and walk over to give them again at Radcliffe.KAUST has already signed up at least one institutional research institution, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, not bad.The university already advertises itself as a world class institution. Not so fast. Universities take a lot more than a lot of money to become world class.So maybe the inner voice of a nascent center of learning was speaking in the Ha'aretz ads. And maybe what it was saying was this: "There are in Israel several real institutions of high intellectual quality and scholarly depth. We Saudis have pretended that they and their country do not exist. They have even studied us, though -- of course -- have never been allowed to visit. We have ignored them, as if that would make them go away. Israel is actually a center of high science and of each and every one of the new sciences that are changing the world. Let us begin by inviting Israeli scientists to KAUST. Maybe the Technion, the Weizman Institute, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University will welcome us before hand to see how their now seasoned but truly world class scientific work." Also inshallah!