Cal Poly/Saudi update: Blakeslee ‘very disturbed’
March 6, 2008
By KAREN VELIE
A controversial Cal Poly/Saudi proposal has a state lawmaker “very disturbed” and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has stepped up pressure on Cal Poly President Warren Baker to take a closer look at the intended Engineering College collaboration.
A growing number of faculty, students and alumni have voiced concern about the scheme, which appears to exclude participation by professors or students who are women, Jewish or gay.
The idea is for Jubail University College (JUC) to receive development, administration and instruction assistance and services from Cal Poly’s Engineering College, with the Saudis reimbursing approximately $6 million to cover costs.
Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) is taking a close look at the proposal, said Chief of Staff Christine Robertson.
“The Assemblyman was very disturbed by information in the press about this project,” she said. “There were questions on what documents could be legally released. We are in process of reviewing that. A top priority for Blakeslee is that state laws are upheld.”
The ADL letter, sent both by electronic mail and first class mail, states that despite the league’s support for corroborative programs with universities in the Middle East, special care must be given to make sure the programs don’t discriminate based on religion, gender, or sexual orientation while complying with the law.
“Turning first to legal obligations, Cal Poly must adhere to state and federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on a number of characteristics, including religion, sex, national origin, and ancestry. See California fair employment and Housing act (FEHA), Government Code section 12900, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended in 1991 to include the American employees of U.S. companies abroad),” according to the letter co-authored by National Civil Rights Director Deborah Lauter and Interim Regional Director Jacqueline Reid.
The League letter also questions whether the proposed collaboration is in step with California anti-discrimination laws:
“Moreover, any program operated by Cal Poly must comply with California’s anti-discrimination laws so any qualified Cal Poly student, faculty, or staff member will have equal access to participate in any university program. See e.g., 42USC 1981, 42 USC 200d, the Unruh Civil Rights act (civ. Code 51) or California Education code sections 200 et seq., 66252 and 66030.”
Provost William Durgin claims the proposed agreement conforms to both California and Saudi laws.
“Hiring and other personnel decisions associated with this project will, of course, comply fully with university policy and federal and state laws and regulations,” Durgin said in an e-mail to members of the Academic Senate a few months ago.
Durgin was unavailable for comment prior to the posting of this article.
“We received a letter inviting a conversation,” said Cal Poly Media Relations Specialist Stacia Momburg “We will absolutely have a conversation on the project with the League.”
Momburg said she did not know if the contract would be made public before it is signed or if the public will be afforded a venue for discussion.
Student protesters and concerned faculty members packed the Academic Senate meeting room Tuesday to listen to Baker defend his support of the proposed collaboration. Students from the Cal Poly College Republicans organized the student protest. Though students weren’t permitted to voice their opinions, many carried signs protesting discrimination.
A few days ago, in response to the onslaught of press coverage, Blakeslee sent Field Representative Theodore Wold to Cal Poly to investigate the proposal. Wold attended the Academic Senate meeting, interviewed faculty members, students, and staff and hunted down documents regarding the project. Administrators provided Wold with a limited number of documents due to confidentiality issues, Robertson added.
“We were simply asked for the proposal,” Momburg countered. “No other documents were asked for. We will send Blakeslee’s office the proposal.”
Numerous faculty, student organization, and public organizations have requested that Cal Poly’s Executive Committee approve a resolution that would allow the Academic Senate to discuss the issue.
“This Saudi deal needs to be discussed,” said professor of philosophy and women and gender studies Racheal Fern in an e-mail to uncoveredslo.com. “And people should not be treated badly for expressing a desire to be part of an institution that takes these sorts of engagements with other cultures seriously.”
Tags:, Cal Poly, Saudi