Ryan Chartrand

Several Cal Poly engineering faculty members have proposed to help a new Saudi Arabian university, Jubail University College (JUC), design an engineering program. Since this initiative is of interest to a number of students, I’m pleased to share a brief summary and update.

Cal Poly’s proposal was selected from among five nationally ranked U.S. engineering colleges through a highly competitive process. Under this proposed partnership, our faculty will collaborate with JUC to develop engineering curricula, as well as to design laboratories and classrooms for a new educational complex to open in 2011. Our faculty will assist with student outreach and admission processes, help recruit faculty from around the world, and help develop industry partnerships and advisory boards. Our faculty will not teach, nor will Cal Poly award degrees or establish a branch campus.

The Cal Poly Corporation will administer the project in full compliance with all federal and state laws, including non-discrimination policies. JUC will pay all project costs so that no state funds are used. Project faculty and staff will be Cal Poly employees selected by Cal Poly. Further, we have made clear to JUC leadership that we reserve the right to withdraw from the collaboration if any employee is rejected for reasons other than normal performance criteria. The final program will meet all principles of U. S. engineering accreditation. Other JUC programs offer instruction to women as well as men and the JUC provost has assured us that the college will offer engineering courses to both men and women as student and industry demand emerges.

Under the principles of academic freedom, faculty members have the right to pursue their scholarship even when that scholarship is controversial. Cal Poly faculty members who developed this proposal did so of their own initiative and prerogative. Faculty members are encouraged to pursue scholarship, including scholarly work in engineering education. In fact, Cal Poly is well known for its work in curriculum innovation.

Through this collaboration, our faculty will develop creative approaches to engineering education, unburdened by budgetary considerations. These innovations will be applicable to our College of Engineering. Benefits to Cal Poly will include new directions in engineering curricula, increased appreciation for global cultural and intellectual diversity, infrastructure improvements in participating departments, and national and international recognition for academic leadership. With this initiative Cal Poly joins Harvard, Cornell, Duke, Texas, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Berkeley and Stanford in establishing academic collaborations in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Cal Poly is honored to be counted among these international leaders in the field of engineering education.

Most Cal Poly graduates take positions in the workforce that require them to work with colleagues from around the world. Our goal is to prepare our students to interact effectively with people of all cultures. I am struck, though, by the extent of misinformation about the Middle East and the JUC collaboration in campus discussions of this initiative. We would be well served to engage in a series of forums designed to explore unfamiliar cultures and to build deeper understanding and mutual respect of them. The College of Engineering will convene a campus student forum at 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 24 in the Advanced Technology Lab to discuss the JUC project. I also intend to host a broader forum that gives our community an opportunity to better understand the Middle East, its people, and the nature of existing educational systems.

Cal Poly has engaged in projects around the world – including European countries, Costa Rica, other western hemisphere nations, Iraq, Afghanistan, China and other parts of the Middle East and Far East. As we continue this campus dialogue, let us discuss how to increase understanding and respect for people across the world, keeping in mind that it is better to engage than to isolate, better to communicate than to remain quiet, better to connect than to separate.

In conclusion, permit me to share a passage from an e-mail I received recently. The author is Charles Hill, a highly regarded career minister of the U.S. Foreign Service, former deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East, executive aid to U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, and currently a diplomat in residence at Yale:

“What Cal Poly is doing is extremely important. It is a true setback for the extremists, who reject the idea of even allowing non-Muslims into the region as a whole, to have an American university present in Saudi Arabia and serving the needs of its young people. Overall, we are making some real – if stumbling and painful – progress in shifting attitudes and actions in Saudi and elsewhere in the Arab world. Please accept my admiration and very best wishes for the work Cal Poly is doing out in the region.”

William W. Durgin is the provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and a guest columnist for the Mustang Daily.

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