Cal Poly/Saudi project update: Dissent growing
February 28, 2008
BY DAN BLACKBURN AND KAREN VELIE
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 UncoveredSLO.com, “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 UncoveredSLO.com’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