Cal Poly Saudi deal: Dueling contracts
December 17, 2008
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
Deal-making with the Saudis is proving plenty problematic for Cal Poly officials.
Efforts to ink what has become a contentious and controversial plan linking the CPSU Engineering College with Jubial University College (JUC) hit another snag recently when attorneys for the Saudi Arabian institution rejected Cal Poly’s latest proposal.
Cal Poly’s Engineering College officials have been attempting to negotiate a deal to create a partnership with the Saudis in the establishment of a JUC engineering school. Under terms of the initial agreement plan, Cal Poly would receive $5.9 million to cover the start-up costs. Those funds would cover salaries for visiting professors; travel; communication and publication costs; and permanent equipment expenses.
But sources close to the negotiations have told CalcoastNews.com that the Saudis have returned a fundamentally changed contract with what are described as insurmountable obstacles.
Among the problem areas are the Saudis’ demands for such conditions as (1) exclusive Saudi approval of 35 payments made only after tasks are accomplished and approved by the Saudis, unlike previous contract drafts which called for regularly scheduled payments; (2) exclusive resolution of all task-based disputes in Saudi courts.
One Arab professor at Cal Poly wondered, “When the issues that have arisen tell them [the Saudis] that they are hated by this group, then why do they want to deal with [them]?”
When Cal Poly’s Dean of Engineering Mohammad Noori and Associate Dean Ed Sullivan first promoted the plan in late 2007, it was cordially received by faculty, according to sources. But when Noori announced shortly thereafter that women and Jews need not apply for participation, faculty, students and alumni expressed their disapproval of the proposal.
In April, a resolution, co-authored by five past chairs of the Cal Poly Academic Senate and a member of the faculty, outlined multiple objections to the planned partnership. Despite the resulting rancor, the following month, Cal Poly President Warren Baker announced his plan to sign the contract. It was prepared and mailed last summer. Noori boasted of the plan’s success.
Since them, it’s been dueling contracts, said sources. Even so, in the face of what is becoming an increasingly expensive exchange between lawyers, with considerable assistance from translators, officials at Cal Poly will review the contract and state their objections to the changes… again.
Although local university officials, including Noori, Sullivan and Baker, insist that prohibitions will not be enforced against female and Jewish faculty members who might want to participate, others see bigger problems that could cloud such a partnership.
One Cal Poly professor interviewed by CalCoastNews.com, an Arab, said he believes cultural differences between Arabs and Israelis are dwarfed by economic concerns. Pro-Israeli groups oppose peace with Saudi Arabia, he said, because this will reduce the flow of U.S. dollars to Israel.
Of the proposed Cal Poly deal, the Arab professor said, “Trying to change Saudi Arabia through one university is not going to happen. The Arab-Israel business is all mixed up. If there was peace between Israel and Palestine, democracy would flourish in the Middle East. If that happened, the U.S. wouldn’t send as much money to Israel.”
The emotional partnership issue has pitted groups such as the Anti-Defamation League against proponents of the plan like Baker, and students and faculty are split on the question of whether the plan will help or hinder Cal Poly and Saudi society.