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Kempner studies role of women in Saudi universities

SOU’s Ken Kempner studies role of women faculty in Saudi universities

Southern Oregon University emeritus professor Ken Kempner, a former dean of social sciences at SOU, has continued studying the role of higher education in developing countries – most recently, the role of women in Saudi Arabia’s universities.

Kempner’s research was cited last month in a story in the life sciences magazine The Scientist about women faculty members at Saudi universities.

“I have been most surprised in our research that the level of education and inclusion of women in Saudi society was much more than I realized,” Kempner said. “Women are highly discriminated (against) and marginalized in Saudi society, but ironically, because of the gender apartheid there is a great need for women professors, doctors, lawyers and school teachers.

“There are some extremely brave women out there who struggle against great odds to even show up to class,” he said. “We found women professors in Arab countries outside of Saudi Arabia face daily harassment and physical violence just by teaching their classes.”

Kempner said he has worked with several Saudi students during his career at Portland State University, the University of Oregon and then SOU. One student – Sana Almansour – studied under Kempner in a doctoral program at PSU and is now a professor at Princess Nora University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The two have collaborated on various projects over the years, including the essay – “The Role of Arab Women Faculty in the Public Sphere” – that was cited by The Scientist. The paper focuses on the involvement of women professors, both in their universities and in larger society.

“I am a Western Male and am unable to interview women in many Arab countries,” Kempner said. “For this reason my colleague, Sana, had to do all the interviews and translations. She has access to women in countries I would not be allowed to travel –Iran, in particular.

“Therefore, my role in our research is as the conceptual scholar and synthesizer of the interviews Sana conducts. I formulate the questions for Sana and she tells me which questions are politically too dangerous to ask. And there are many.”

Kempner began his faculty career at Portland State, then moved to the UO before becoming SOU’s dean of social sciences, education, and health and physical education in 2001. He took emeritus status in 2012.

He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; a fellowship at the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico; and was a Yamada Scholar in Japan.

“My writing and research has always focused on the role of higher education in developing countries,” Kempner said. “I’ve been most interested in how universities contribute to social and economic development, and the role universities play in equity and social justice for women and under-represented groups.”

Kempner has continued to advise international students since his retirement and serves on several department committees.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer