District’s Foundation Deal With Saudi Arabia Sparks Protests

Questioned / Chancellor Raul Rodriguez defends a multi-million dollar agreement while addressing faculty last week. / Liz Monroy/ el Don
Questioned / Chancellor Raul Rodriguez defends a multi-million dollar agreement while addressing faculty last week. / Liz Monroy/ el Don
The district is finalizing a $105 million deal with the Middle Eastern nation

By Jose Servin

Despite opposition from faculty and staff, the Rancho Santiago Community College District Foundation will follow through on a multi-million dollar consulting contract with two technical schools located in Saudi Arabia.

In response, the Faculty Association for RSCCD has sent a cease and desist letter addressed to both the RSCCD district and its fundraising foundation regarding the Saudi Arabia deal.

Professors at both Santa Ana College and Santiago Canyon College expressed their concerns about the $105 million deal as betraying the district’s non-discrimination policy.

“Over there, they are very aggressive racists. They are very aggressive sexists. They are very aggressive homophobics. They’re very aggressive anti-Semites,” said George Wright, criminal justice professor, at a board of trustees meeting March 9.

The deal requires RSCCD to collaborate with the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation of Saudi Arabia in assisting two technical schools with curriculum construction. It also involves making changes to infrastructure, such as installing fire alarms, Chancellor Raul Rodriguez said.

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy ruled by the Al Saud family, is known for violating basic human rights and using beheading and torture as punishment, according to a report by the U.S. State Department in 2013.

RSCCD faculty will be the first considered in the hiring process for jobs relating to this project before instructors outside of the district are considered.

“If we do send any faculty they would only go for a two-week period at a time, one to two times a year at most,” Rodriguez said. “Most of the people being hired are people from Middle Eastern countries.”

To limit liability, the agreement is between Saudi Arabia and the district’s fundraising foundation, meaning that this arrangement did not have to go through the board of trustees.

Overseas, a joint venture corporation will represent the interests of the foundation and Saudi Arabia, Rodriguez said.

Anyone working as a contractor or a faculty member in Saudi Arabia through this deal would report to the joint venture corporation.

Morrie Barembaum, professor at Santiago Canyon College, says that by bearing its name, the foundation represents all members of the district.

Barembaum criticized the deal for not having gone through the board where it would have been debated by elected officials.

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Rodriguez said the project had been mentioned to the public many times before, and he wonders why people are speaking out now that the deal is to be finalized.

“This government discriminates with harsh punishments against women, non-Muslims, members of the LGBT community and Israeli citizens,” wrote Melinda Womack, professor at SCC, in a statement read at the board meeting.

After spending and hiring costs, the district should make about $8 million in profit, according to early estimates released at the board meeting.

Similar deals between Canadian community colleges and Saudi Arabia have all failed, Barry Resnick, counselor at SCC and president of the Faculty Association for RSCCD said.

For example, in its deal with Saudi Arabia, Algonquin College of Ottawa, Ontario faces an investment loss of $730,000 according to their 2014 consolidated spending report. The RSCCD foundation had applied for this same deal in 2013.

The district has been involved in other international agreements with China and Mexico. China has been criticized for its track record on human rights, according to the U.S. State Department.

The foundation will be sending representatives to Saudi Arabia in April to finalize the deal, Rodriguez said.

“My interest is in the betterment of Santa Ana College students. Through this initiative SAC students will continue to be served,” said Raquel Manriquez, associated student president.

The Kingdom at a Glance 
Law: Saudi Arabia adheres to the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, using Sharia law in place of a constitution.
Theocracy: Along with Iran, it is the only country where a religious body, ulema, has a direct role in government.
Punishment: Last year, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was accused of apostasy after founding an online forum. He was sentenced to 10 years and 1,000 lashes.

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