Cal Poly/Saudi project update: Dissent growing

February 28, 2008



An attempt by a group of Cal Poly professors to derail the Engineering College’s proposed collaboration with a Saudi Arabia university has itself been rebuffed, at least temporarily.


Members of the Academic Senate tried this week to discuss the draft of a resolution addressing the Jubail University College (JUC) co-venture plan but instead sparked heated debate, according to some faculty members who attended the meeting. Action on the resolution was delayed for several weeks.

A February 14, 2008, article by, “An intriguing Cal Poly/Saudi project … if you’re not a woman, Jewish, or gay,” details a proposed Cal Poly agreement to develop an engineering program in Jubail from which women, Jewish people, and gays will be excluded. The controversial co-venture pits a department head and a handful of administrators backing the project against an apparent majority of the Engineering College faculty.


The resolution, co-authored by five past chairs of the Academic Senate and a faculty member, states objections to Cal Poly’s continued cooperation with Jubail University College.


The resolution “reflects the sentiments of Cal Poly faculty and seeks to formally document the campus wide opposition from faculty, students and staff to this project that is not consistent with the aspiration of the Cal Poly Mission Statement and the University Learning Objectives.”


Cal Poly Senate Chair Bruno Giberti was described as refusing to discuss the issue, citing a 24-hour notice requirement. Giberti reportedly chided the professors for their attempt.


“These people [the program advocates] have been working a long time. No need for further action. I am not impressed by four Senate chairs. Shame on you,” Giberti was reported to have said.


Cal Poly’s Academic Senate is a faculty governing body that recommends policies and provides a venue for faculty collaboration on administrative decisions.


Provost William Durgin, a supporter of the controversial project, also condemned professors for disseminating information on the project over the Internet, via e-mail, using anonymous Yahoo and Gmail accounts, and “not behaving like folks with Ph.D.’s.”


“Much of that e-mail was incorrect and was feeding Web sites and blogs that were incorrect,” Durgin said. “It’s unprofessional and inappropriate and beneath the expectations of Cal Poly staff.”


Durgin also pointed out that Cal Poly faculty is protected by an academic freedom policy.


“Scholarly work is protected under a faculty resolution and AAUP guidelines,” Durgin added. “That freedom extends to any lawful research or speech relevant to faculty members even when the work is controversial.”


Proponents of the resolution will ask the Senate Executive Committee to put the issue on the agenda for discussion by the full body April 15.


Following’s article on the project, Ed Sullivan sent an e-mail to CENG chairs, with an attached e-mail from Durgin.


“While Saudi practices limit delivery of instruction in the classroom to instructors of the same gender as students, nothing in the draft project proposal, draft contract, or discussions surrounding either, would otherwise preclude any Cal Poly faculty member or student from participating in project activities,” Durgin says in the e-mail. “Indeed we’re not aware of anything other than travel advisories from our own government that would preclude participation by any member of the Cal Poly community.”


Saudi laws restrict entry into the country by anyone claiming to be Jewish or gay.


“This proposal has not been well received by the plurality of faculty in the College of Engineering with empathetic opposition to this partnership from faculty in other colleges, also concerned with the egregious abuse of human rights in the Saudi kingdom including unacceptable denial of basic rights of equality for women and punitive discrimination against Jews and homosexuals,” the resolution reads in part.


Durgin countered, “We can send any qualified person we want to.”


Opponents of the co-venture also voice concerns that the project “is not a mutually beneficial arrangement.”


According to the agreement, Cal Poly is to receive $5.9 million from the Saudi government to create an engineering college at JUC. Those funds are budgeted to cover salaries, travel, communication, publication costs, and permanent equipment expenses.


A number of costs regarding the project are not noted in the budget, including Arabic-speaking Western attorneys to translate proposed contracts (Saudi law requires contracts be written in Arabic); faculty insurance policies; and interest on late payments.


“We are in contract negotiations now and we believe we have adequate safeguards,” Durgin countered.

Tags:, Cal Poly, Saudi

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Member Opinions:

By: Anonymous on 3/5/08

The issue is very simple. If we want to ‘play ball’ with the Saudis, we have to play by there rules. Playing by the law of Saudi Arabia requires abandoning American ethics and principles. We really shouldn’t want to do this for a number of good reasons. I am reminded of a wonderful quote:

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” – President Thomas Jefferson

It is clear when we discuss Saudi Arabia, we are looking at significant differences in our world view. More importantly, we are looking at different underlying ‘principles.’ We are not talking about style, but of substance. We cannot accept the principles of the Saudis without walking away from bedrock American values, regardless of how much money is involved.

The most disingenuous aspect of ‘KiKi’s’ entire parallelization, is her belief that somehow any culture exposed to the American way of doing things will naturally embrace our democratic and egalitarian principles. However, recent ‘academic’ studies have found no correlation. Folks accustomed to totalitarianism like it just fine.

So as Thomas Jefferson might have said: if fashion dictates we wear a veil then bend if you wish, but in matters of civil and human rights… stand like a rock.

Roger Freberg

By: Anonymous on 3/4/08

KiKi: It's such a relief to know that Cal Poly Public Affairs is on the job.

By: Anonymous on 3/3/08

A bit of mis-information is floating about here.

According to my understanding, Cal Poly plans nothing more than developing an educational program for a university in KSA. Cal Poly professors will have no teaching assignments nor will KSA students be awarded Cal Poly degrees. Further, the program is open to all Cal Poly professors irrespective of race, gender, or religion and all costs will be reimbursed by KSA and thus no taxpayer dollars will be spent on the project.

I have a long-standing interest in women's educational issues, particularly as they pertain to the Mideast. In my view, it is warranted for people to be concerned about women's rights in the Mideast generally, and, in particular in KSA. It is also true that post-911 the educational dynamic changed markedly in the Kingdom as it has throughout the region, most notably in Jordan. True, most classes in KSA are delivered still in a gender segregated environment according to custom. However, all five major KSA universities educate both men and women and, in fact, over half the current enrollment in those universities is female. The stated goal of King Abdullah is for the Kingdom to become an industrialized nation within the next two decades and to achieve this he has recognized the necessity of an educated workforce. Implicit in that goal is the utilization of the talents of women.

King Abdullah has invested, out of his personal fortune, $10 bil US in the creation of KAUST, the first world-class technological university in KSA. Many notable Western universities are involved in the creation of KAUST and other Saudi universities, among them, Cornell, Harvard Medical, Carnegie Mellon, perhaps Berkeley, and others. Duke University in 2005 set up an electrical engineering program at the all women's college, Effat, which was enormously successful and has led to the first true student exchange program with KSA that took place this past month. Also that year KSA established a significant scholarship program to send students to the US and around the world. This year over 15,000 KSA students will be funded up to $31,000 each to attend college and graduate school in the US. Many public and private universities including the Universities of Kansas, Missouri, Oregon and others are competitively seeking these students and they are eager to come. Clearly, KSA is making good progress, in a relatively short time, in growing their educated population – of both genders.

In my view, the issue is whether or not we in the US should make efforts to encourage this trend in the expectation that education will hold the key to more equitable human rights in the KSA, the Mideast and the world at large.

Patience is helpful in this regard. We in America have struggled in our quest for equality in our society. The US Women's Movement began in 1848 and it was not until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 that women could vote. Our educational system was segregated racially until well after the Brown decisions in 1954. Many US citizens argue that they have yet to achieve full civil rights in America.

Cal Poly SLO is a source of pride for all CA citizens and particularly for those on the central coast. As a CA taxpayer I am enormously proud to have my university counted among the ranks of Ivy League and other world-class American universities. The Kingdom is far from perfect, but perhaps – just maybe – Cal Poly will have a small part in improving the human rights of women and others in KSA and thereby change the course of history in the Mideast.

Is it not better to allow the light to shine in than to close the shutters and remain in darkness?

By: Anonymous on 3/2/08

To SuzyCrews: Some Saudi colleges may be co-ed but only males can teach males and only females can instruct females. Duke University did not open an engineering school in Saudi Arabia. Duke assisted in developing a bachelors program in engineering that included courses in electrical and computer engineering that were adapted from Duke’s curriculum. The Duke programs complemented the Saudi College’s already existing computer science program.

By: Anonymous on 2/29/08

We have a new update. It appears that Baker will attend next Tuesday's full Academic Senate meeting, and will discuss the Saudi deal from 4:30–5:00 in University Union 220. Interesting how Giberti couldn't adjust his agenda to fit in the former Chairs' resolution, but can suddenly find time for Baker to express his side. Normally, the agenda for the full Senate is set by the Executive Committee, not just the Chair, so it appears Giberti can change the rules when he really wants to.

By: Anonymous on 2/29/08

To SuzyCrews: there is no "exchange" in this program. One faculty member – and he is from Cuesta – has agreed to go should this contract be signed. Neither women professor nor students will be allowed. And, forgive me, but are you suggesting that putting homosexuals to death for sodomy is not "wrong?"

By: Anonymous on 2/29/08

Got your tail feathers up Mr. Carl E. Baker, that's good. I hope your not one of the Professors living in the subsidized houses that I'm helping pay for. Yes I listen the Hannity, i like to listen to both sides of the issue and not just the left. You ought to try it.

By: Anonymous on 2/29/08

It's interesting to me that people are agitated that Cal Poly would engage with people of a vastly different culture. Isn't an institution of higher education expected to be anti-discriminatory? If the university decides not to participate based on the idea that Saudi culture is "wrong" then it is discriminating.

The US faced a similar situation in the early 70s. Kissenger and Nixon worked with China through cultural exchanges to open trade. While we may not agree with China's human rights practices, they have become our No. 1 trade partner and an ally. I don't contend that Cal Poly would effect immediate change, but what better way to open lines of intellectual and social exchange than to be an example of good business practice.

I've read that the Saudi university currently has co-educational programs – which could mean that while initial classes are male only, later classes may be female. In Saudi Arabia more than 51% of students at university are female. Duke university opened an all female engineering school in Saudi Arabia.

I think people are being short-sighted here. In working with the Saudi's Cal Poly brings with it the fact that its engineering college graduates the most women from its programs nation-wide. What better way to engage than through intellectual and cultural exchange.

By: Anonymous on 2/29/08

Durgin's Comments regarding academic freedome are not true. While in theory Profs have academic freedom, the reality is that probationary faculty must toe the line in order not to cross those who evaluate them. Publicly disagreeing with a policy supported by the high administration would be academic suicide for tenure track faculty.

By: Anonymous on 2/29/08

Where exactly is Dean Mohammad Noori in all this? I understand from the previous article that he initially traveled with Professor Fiegel to Saudi Arabia to iron out the details. Was this misadventure his idea? And, if so, why is he not visibly and vociferously defending it. I guess Durgin’s paid to cover for him.

By: Anonymous on 2/29/08

It sounds like Cal Poly needs a need Dean, a new Provost, and certainly a new President. The Provost is fighting a losing battle here.

Dew Dog — You need to get a life. If you don't have anything constructive to say, go play in the street or listen to Heil Hannity. You're a joke.

By: Anonymous on 2/28/08

Cal Poly should be ashamed that it is willing to keep pushing this project forward when it is opposed by almost everyone on campus and others off-campus. The only person who has stepped forward to be the resident director on a $180k salary in Saudi is a Cuesta Community College Professor. Is the real reason for pushing this project, the Dean clinging on to this as his only accomplishment (not?) after three years at Cal Poly ?

By: Anonymous on 2/28/08

I think Provost Durgin has it correct when he states "not behaving like folk's with PH.D's." I guess that means self adulation for their degrees. I have found most of these PH.D folks proclaim their great inteligence to us subordinates. Although I have yet to find one who is smart and has any common sense. They are very well protected on campus and most could not survive in the real world with the rest of us when they would actually have to perform for their pay.Please excuse any grammar errors as I have to work everyday and do not have a PH.D.

By: Anonymous on 2/28/08

Dr. Durgin's comments about the language of the agreement are disingenuous. Apparently the project involves teaching male-only students, and female Cal Poly profs can't do that. 2+2=4, Dr. Durgin. Also homosexuals and Jews are not allowed into the country, according to your article. Again, maybe the language of the agreement says nothing about this, but this is an important external fact. Cal Poly's own EEOC standards prohibit the university from entering into contracts that discriminate based on gender, religion, and sexual preference. Standards are things that guide, guidelines for our behavior. They are not things to find a way around. Is Cal Poly, more specifically, is Dr. Durgin, really committed to equal opportunity at Cal Poly?

By: Anonymous on 2/28/08

Faculty governance at Cal Poly, while never strong, has reached a new low. To restrict debate based on a procedural technicality is stifling. All the Executive Committee had to do was to agree that the item merited discussion by the full Senate, something large numbers of faculty members want to see. The Senate is supposed to represent the faculty, not act as rubber-stampers for the administration.

Another interesting note about the meeting–Bill Durgin mentioned that Cal Poly had hired "the best law firm in the world" for handing Middle Eastern contracts. I wonder how much that cost, and where the funds for these "world's best" attorneys originates.

Please continue to keep the community updated on this issue.