Cal Poly-Saudi deal: No women, no problem
May 26, 2008
A controversial proposal to partner Cal Poly’s engineering department with a fledgling university in Saudi Arabia has spurred a steam of leaked e-mails between Cal Poly officials, who express a desire to push ahead with the pact despite possible gender restrictions.
During the past year, Cal Poly Engineering Dean Mohammad Noori and Associate Dean Ed Sullivan have promoted and helped to craft a partnership with Jubail University College (JUC). According to the agreement, Cal Poly will receive $5.9 million to cover the cost related to starting an engineering college at JUC.
Many opponents claim the program excludes women, Jewish people, and homosexuals from participation because of Saudi laws and customs. Others contend Cal Poly is pricing its participation too cheaply. Concerned faculty members and students have rallied against the proposal.
Last month, Cal Poly President Warren Baker announced he would sign the Saudi pact in approximately a month.
In one of the e-mails, Director of Grants Development Xenia Bixler expresses her concern that JUC will have separate male and female Cal Poly visiting faculty tracks. Her concerns are rebuffed. Sullivan responds with a request that Cal Poly officials try to avoid a rewrite and sign the pact.
Bixler to Sullivan, May 15, 2008:
“You may recall our discussions regarding the State Department advisory pertaining to business transactions in Saudi Arabia, which stated that all contracts are written in Arabic. The RC [Saudi Royal Commission] had submitted earlier versions of the agreement translated during our negotiations process so I have no doubt that they will be translating the final version.
“Our legal counsel has advised us in the attached e-mail that we refrain from signing the English version until we are satisfied with the Arabic contract since this is the version that prevails should there be a dispute. I have been waiting until we are all in agreement with the final version before obtaining an Arabic version from Dr. Khaldi and then submitting to Fulbright, for them to assess.
“I have not asked the question whether female advisors or visitors are required to stay within the ‘female branch’ when at the JUC, if this precludes them in participating in the engineering curriculum development, or if this only limits them from teaching in a mixed audience. Should I move forward on this question, edit the language, or are we accepting as is? I hate to be a pest but I know the Saudis are losing patience with us and Mohammad’s e-mail from Dr. Khaldi was sent last Sunday.”
Sullivan to Bixler, May 15, 2008:
“Thanks for trying to nudge this along. I totally agree that the Saudis are losing patience and the loss of another full week is discouraging (it’s already the weekend over there). I understand that Carlos Cordova has been asked to ruminate over the latest version (esp. the ‘male v. female branch’ phrasing) and hopefully he’ll say he’s OK with it today.
“I really, really hope we can avoid asking for a clarification of this phrasing and simply tell them we’re ready to sign. I’m quite afraid that another round of ‘pickiness’ on our part could be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back.
“I know higher authorities make the call on what happens next, but I thought I’d share my worries. Please let me know when a decision comes down.”
Bixler to Sullivan, May 15, 2008:
“I feel not only Mohammad’s, [but] your’s and our Engineering Department’s credibility is at stake here. I am sure the RC is more used to dealing with responsive profit-motivated contractors rather than academics. I know they see me as the person stalling this agreement, which is OK (it is my job to cover all the bases and preserve your relationship with the Program Director), but maybe you can convince Mohammad to also place a call to [Provost] Bill [Durgin] so we can resolve and have a way ahead.
“I will be out of the office tomorrow and Monday but will check my e-mail tomorrow later in the afternoon and also late afternoon on Monday and can move any correspondence along as necessary. I will be on a bike ride all day tomorrow and camping at the lake for the weekend but you can reach me on my cell phone at XXX-XXXX.”