Cal Poly Saudi deal: Dueling contracts

December 17, 2008


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 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, 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.


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By: mcdonald on 12/19/08

"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". If its not guaranteed in the contract then you can bet that you can't count on it. Even if there is a clause protecting civil rights the Saudis will intimidate woman, jews and homosexuals.

By: mccdave on 12/19/08

I understand Cal Poly is considering an alternative to the no-women, no-Jews Saudi school: a partnership with Bob Jones University to create a whites-only engineering school whose escutcheon will include a noose and Confederate flag.

The sad thing is that the Saudis probably need the school more than CSU needs the money. Saudi Arabia is a classic case of a country with the "resource curse": their oil wealth has resulted in an undiversified economy that's vulnerable to swings in the oil price and the inevitable dwindling of their reserves. Other Gulf states have had the foresight to diversify and are relatively progressive even as they make obligatory nods to Islamic conservatism and are nominally dictatorships. Saudi society is full of people who lack skills, have constrained social outlets — especially with the opposite sex — but are schooled in Wahabi Islam and a canon of hatreds. It should be no surprise that some young men become violent radicals. (See Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower.") In terms of internal politics, Saudi Arabia may be the biggest wildcard in the Middle East.

A partnership with a school like Cal Poly might help, but obviously CSU can't sell its soul.

By: SensitiveGuy on 12/19/08

Screw Saudi Arabia.Ship that scumbag Professor back to his beloved Homeland.Worthless Arab.

By: Nancy on 12/18/08

I agree Roger "The solution isn't so complex. American universities needs to walk away from the Saudis. They need to do the 'right thing' and not the easy wrong."

By: JorgeEstrada on 12/18/08

Sounds like George Bush graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Can our students afford this expense? They, we, us, who live here, need to remember that this campus is about learning by doing and doing here is the need.

By: rogerfreberg on 12/18/08

hmmm… this should really a discussion about how many American values we are willing to sell in order to do business with Saudi Arabia?

In all of this I do not hear about any efforts by Saudi Arabia to accommodate to our cultural preferences, it is all about doing things there way or the highway. It's fairly common knowledge that Saudi Arabia is not known for pitching a 'big tent' and inviting folks of different points of view. They are not a very 'tolerant' bunch.

Let us remember who Saudi Arabia is after all. The fact that Saudi Arabia is not one of the 1000 top tourist destinations by non-muslims should say something. Kinda reminds one of Dante's Divine Comedy that said about hell: "abandon hope all ye who enter here."

The self described 'arab' professor says that this is a complicated issue that one university cannot change. He is right, but the stand must be taken somewhere , so why not at Cal Poly?

The solution isn't so complex. American universities needs to walk away from the Saudis. They need to do the 'right thing' and not the easy wrong.

Moral leadership may not be found in Cal Poly's aging President, but it needs to begin somewhere.

Roger Freberg

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By: CarolAnnRiley on 12/21/08

Good follow up CCN. It would be nice to hear from more of the CPU faculty and alumni.

By: hotdog on 12/19/08

Wow, I agree with all previous posters. To hell with Saudi Arabia, CP has done OK all this time without oil money (ours, by the way). We have protected them and called them our friends, they have returned that by ripping us off repeatedly.

If the people of this country had realized what a great man we had in Pres Carter and followed his lead to get off the oil kick 30 years ago we wouldn't be doing business with this despotic regime in any sense. But we foolishly remained addicted to oil all this time and have become dependent on our 'drug dealer'. Pretty sad state of affairs-thanks a lot to all who contributed to that.

By: Jordan on 12/19/08

Its time for CPU to walk away and send Noori home. CPU has been engendered by the oil $$.

I don't see where the Saudis have anything else to offer us, they know it and they seem to know that its enough. I hope it isn't.