x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

University moves to stop mingling

Areas of Zayed University's new Dh3.7 billion campus have been segregated after parents raised fears over interaction between male and female students.

The new Zayed University campus in Khalifa City, which has introduced strict rules to ensure no mingling between male and female students and staff.
The new Zayed University campus in Khalifa City, which has introduced strict rules to ensure no mingling between male and female students and staff.

ABU DHABI //A strict set of rules has been introduced at Zayed University's new Dh3.7 billion campus after parents expressed fears of interaction between male and female students.

The university, which opened as a women's school in 1998, admitted its first male students four years ago.

The campus features separate sides for men and women, with a 2.4-metre wall separating the two and a swipe-card system to ensure tight security.

But an email sent to all staff last Monday describes areas of the university that will be completely out of bounds to staff and students, and outlines strict rules for common areas such as the library.

Only 700 of the 4,000 students are men, but the issue of segregation has been of concern to parents since the campus opened in September.

A lack of separate entries at the administration building led to hundreds of males and females mingling.

The campus vice provost Dr Thomas Cochran sent a message titled "Segregation" to all staff with a list of clarifications after a meeting on Monday afternoon.

Dr Cochran later explained: "Everyone was looking at us a bit more than usual [in that first week], so we thought we'd take a more conservative stance so there was no doubt we were segregated."

Access to the central courtyard and its dividing wall, a major feature of the campus design, is now prohibited to everyone.

Dr Cochran said the courtyard issue was due to a design flaw that meant certain areas inside the building allowed for a view on to the other side of the dividing wall, which "more than a few folks were uncomfortable with".

Until the swipe-card system is activated in coming weeks, allowing authorised members of staff to cross between the sides, security guards have been stationed at every doorway.

Another staff member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "There's so much security it feels like a prison. It's not nice for the students and isn't fair.

"They are well aware that there is to be no mixing and are happy with it that way, so there is no need for this to be so extreme."

Plans have always been in place to ensure students are comfortable and segregated at all times.

The library is open to females on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, while males can use it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Anyone who wants a book on a non-assigned day can have it delivered.

After the first two days of registration, when it is believed some families withdrew their daughters from the university, the administration building is now segregated or off-limits to students, while access systems are improved.

"I don't know of a particular case but it's possible people pulled out after that," Dr Cochran said.

Recreational facilities are also now "off limits" to male students and staff, with only limited access to females.

The swimming pool is out of bounds as there are no lifeguards and other safety measures are not in place because hiring staff has been difficult, Dr Cochran said.

He said he was working hard to ensure staff could gain access to recreational facilities, but for students it was not so simple.

"We were supposed to have separate men's and women's facilities but due to budget cuts we now only have one," Dr Cochran said. "Eventually it will be usable on a timed basis, though, like the library."

Staff are disappointed with the lack of access.

"Here we are with this great campus and the promise of fantastic new facilities and we can't even use them," one teacher said.

"Many of us had cancelled our gym memberships as we had been told we'd have all these great things, like basketball courts and a swimming pool."

It is among a series of teething problems at the new campus, resulting in another email from Dr Cochran to staff stating: "The official grand opening of our new campus in Abu Dhabi will not be held as previously scheduled on December 7."

Planning for the elaborate opening ceremony began more than a year ago.

Signage to and around the campus is incomplete, and a lack of landscaping means some parts of the university still look like an unfinished construction site.

"The Zayed University campus is like a brand-new car. It's at least two years before we take the plastic off the seats," a teacher said.

mswan@thenational.ae