Ryan Chartrand

The well-publicized proposal for a collaboration between Cal Poly’s College of Engineering and Saudi Arabia’s Jubail University College (JUC) received input from engineering students at an open forum discussion Monday night.

Students took advantage of their chance to ask questions from some of the people most in the know on the subject. The proposed contract’s budget, control over the discrimination of faculty and students, safety issues and opposition to the program were all discussed by three deans: College of Engineering Dean Mohammad Noori, dean of research and graduate programs Susan Opava and associate dean of graduate programs Edward Sullivan.

Lori Atwater, the founding director of local business Sustainable International Development, attended the forum and announced her plans to draft a proposal for a student exchange between Cal Poly and Saudi Arabian universities. Atwater received a good reaction from the students attending, with many staying afterward to sign on and help with the proposal in the future. She stressed that Americans can’t push their worldviews on other countries, but have to use education to start global relationships.

Many administrators have been visibly frustrated from what they call too much misinformation, or “wannabe facts” as Sullivan said. Perhaps it’s fitting that as each new development about the proposal emerged, discussion and debate soon followed, as seen by the numerous meetings, forums and media attention thus far.

The program would involve Cal Poly faculty, both on the ground in Saudi Arabia and on the San Luis Obispo campus, whom would develop curricula, admission requirements, industry contacts and hire faculty for JUC’s now non-existent engineering programs.

The proposed 5-year contract would pay Cal Poly $5.9 million for the development of four engineering degree programs: civil, mechanical, electrical and computer. For each department, a Cal Poly faculty member will spend about two years at JUC as a sort of coordinator while collaborating with fellow faculty and staff in San Luis Obispo.

The CENG will hire additional faculty to compensate for the loss of those abroad, thought they probably won’t be tenure-track, Sullivan said.

There was a lot of debate about Saudi Arabia’s customs, especially segregation of the sexes in universities, and what Cal Poly’s role there would imply. Noori and others said that the only way to become global citizens was to start conversations and form relationships. Much of the opposition seemed to the country of Saudi Arabia instead of the proposal itself, although many were concerned about possible discrimination.

Amid concerns about JUC’s engineering program being men-only, Opava stressed that Cal Poly would gladly terminate the contract if there are any issues of discrimination. For example, JUC is not permitted to reject any of CENG’s appointees to the coordinator positions on terms of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.

While the program is men-only as of now, Noori insisted that JUC’s provost said the college will open itself to women as industry demand emerges. He then said that “(JUC) decides what fields of engineering they need and what the needs of society are.”

Apparently, many other Saudi Arabian universities have coed engineering departments, including the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which is a developing university that was given $10 billion to start up. UC Berkeley and Stanford have both signed nearly $30 million deals with KAUST to help develop engineering programs.

Though the proposal, which would be overseen by the Cal Poly Corporation, is not for profit, the CENG does seek some benefits from the deal, hoping for opportunities for faculty growth, more resources in face of looming budget cuts and international prestige. Because of the interest in the issue, the finalized contract will probably be available to the public.

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