cultures: Local professor teaches at Saudi Arabia university
February 21, 2009, Delaware, Ohio, Gazette
within his profession, quoted as an authority on the newspaper industry and the
author of two books, it is probably no surprise to many of his colleagues that
John K. Hartman was selected as the Al-Jazirah Newspaper Chair for International
Journalism at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Yet it may be a
surprise that the esteemed educator currently lives in Liberty Township.
professor spoke to the Gazette recently about his experiences in Saudia Arabia.
“They are in
the process of becoming a modern progressive society and we think them a third
world country,” Hartman said.
received three degrees from Bowling Green State University — a bachelor’s in
journalism, a master’s degree in broadcast news and his doctorate in
different degrees. Three different decades,” he said.
the Ashland Times Gazette and the Toledo Blade, in public information for the
state of Ohio and teaching at BGSU, Hartman worked his way up to full professor
at Central Michigan University. He even found time to serve on Bowling Green’s
local board of education for several years.
“It was my
major public service thing,” he said.
It was in
November 2007 that Hartman received an e-mail from a professor with King Saud
University asking him if he would be interested in the chair at the school.
“I never knew
him. I never knew the university. The only word I knew in the message was
journalism,” Hartman said.
Yet the fact
that there was a mass communication department piqued his interest to the point
that he responded. Following a brief relationship by e-mail, Hartman ultimately
applied for the position and was invited.
serious,” Hartman realized, working out details on when to come and what to
teach including seminars and panels. Initially to be there three weeks in March
2008, the Hartmans had tickets in hand but were advised by the State Department
the day before they were to leave to not board the plane until they had the
proper paperwork and visas that were slow in coming.
“We did not
understand the magnitude of getting the visa. Saudi is a very controlled
society,” he said. “There we were all dressed up, ready to go to the dance and
everything fell apart.”
They did not
make the flight. But after work on both sides and time off from work was
reorganized, a couple months later the Hartmans left for Riyadh for two weeks at
the end of April. The visit worked out very well and the couple returned for two
more weeks in January and plan to return again in November. Hartman now has a
four-year commitment to the chair.
“It was a
very rigorous… ,” Hartman said; “… stimulating … ,” Kay Hartman added; “…
undertaking,” Hartman concluded.
promise they made to us they did — plane tickets, hotel accommodations, driver,
translator, meals. We were treated like visiting dignitaries,” Hartman said,
adding that the Saudis were a very hospitable, friendly people.
Saudi Arabia is currently putting billions in education.
believe education is the key to the future,” he said. “One of the commonalities
we have with the Saudis is we both care about education. I think we have a great
common interest with commitment to education.”
college students there not that much different from those here.
kids. Some are very interested. Some are not,” he said.
students and journalists attending Hartman’s lectures speak English at varying
degrees, understanding some or all of what Hartman said before the translator
known to tell a joke or two at the beginning of class,” he said, adding he
noticed students understanding what he said was like a wave going through the
With many of
the students from his first visit attending the more advanced classes in
journalism he presented this past month, Hartman said he had a better rapport
with the students, noticing the nonverbals.
you’re getting smiles, nods or they’re looking off into space,” he said, “the
second time, the nonverbals were more positive.”
wife, Kay, also with an extensive background in education, talked about the role
of women in Saudi Arabia. In public, they wear an abaya, a long, loose robe.
Women cannot drive (they have chauffeurs), leave the country without permission
from a male relative and cannot have a bank account. But, she added, women are
difference we are not used to, but not horrid,” she said.
girls’ university, she learned that women dressed the same as Westerners once
within their compound walls.
“In here we
are free,” she was told. “Women can see each other, just the men can’t see
visit, Kay Hartman said she was whisked off and treated like she was someone
important as she was provided with coffee, dates and cookies.
very interested in the U.S. education system,” she said. “They value our higher
She found it
interesting that they were still investing in the girls’ university, adding to
the library and residence halls and adding a mini-recreation center, even though
they knew in eight months they were vacating the facility.
United States, if they know they are going to vacate some place, they do not
continue to build,” she said.
culture and misconceptions
our media,” Hartman said, adding Saudis watch American movies on the Internet
and TV, yet, “we do not know them.”
met one woman who had visited several cities in the U.S. but would not go to
Chicago because of the gangs. The woman based her knowledge on Robert Stack in
“The Untouchables,” which ran on TV in the late 1950s to early 1960s.
“Misconceptions between cultures come from a variety of places that don’t make
sense,” she said.
While in the
country in January, the Hartmans had hoped to travel to some of the lush areas
outside the city, but because of the Gaza war were told it would not be safe to
the United States is too favorable to Israel,” Hartman said. “I told them every
group gets portrayed as a villain at some time. We’re an equal opportunity
villain portrayer. I think our journalism is pretty fair here.”
writes regularly for Editor & Publisher, said when an article on the Detroit
Free Press cutting back on its print edition was published online, there were
lots of hits, but when he wrote a column about what is going on in Saudi Arabia,
there was “no traffic whatsoever. Even people in the industry are not
included questions about Saudi Arabia in a survey he conducted with students at
Capital University and found out that many thought the country was a democracy.
“I learned we
don’t know,” he said.
Arabia, the broadcast media is controlled by the state while newspapers are
journalism reflects their culture. They are a kingdom. When the king does such
and such it is page one, much like our president would be on page one,” Hartman
relationships are very important to the Saudis with photos a big part of the
paper. Only the photos are of people at meetings and not accidents, like in the
United States. The newspaper is glossy and in color; Hartman was told they are
trying to keep magazines out.
“I think it’s
important for people here to understand their media reflects their culture, like
ours does,” he said, noting that the country is changing with more councils and
talk of elections, even possibly changes in policies towards women.
know Saudi Arabia. I think we should be better friends. We have a lot in common.
We need to get to know them better,” Hartman said. He talked briefly about
student exchange programs where Saudis come here for an education, but we do not
send our students there.
Department is pleased the Hartmans will continue their visits to the country.
people to see what kind of people we are, so I feel a responsibility to our own
country to be a good ambassador for our country to foster peace and
understanding,” Hartman said. “In some way, I feel what I’ve done all my life
has been a training ground for this. I was raised by broad-minded people … They
would have felt this something worthy.”
are willing to speak to area school classes and other groups about their
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