Faculty at Odds With Association Over Saudi Lawsuit

RAUL-CHNCELLOR

Rancho Santiago Community College District Chancellor Raul Rodriguez, one of the main proponents of the district’s deal with Saudi Arabia, addressing the academic senate of Santa Ana College in 2015, in an effort to justify the deal. / Liz Monroy / el Don

By Jose Servin

A rift between faculty and their union leaders is causing distrust and anger among professors after a yearlong legal battle with the Rancho Santiago Community College District has drained union funds.

Distrust stems from leaders of the faculty association waging a lawsuit while keeping their constituents in the dark.

The Faculty Association of Rancho Santiago Community College District sued the district last year over Brown Act violations regarding a controversial deal with Saudi Arabia.

The lawsuit has cost faculty about $80,000, which is more than union dues collected during the 2014-2015 academic year, FARSCCD Treasurer Ray Hicks said at a special meeting Feb. 29.

“It’s been capped at 80, its not going up anymore. The firm has agreed to do it from this point on, pro bono, for nothing, free. That means they probably believe in what they’re doing,” Criminal Justice Professor George Wright said.

Wright came out vehemently against the Saudi deal along with FARSCCD President Barry Resnick, who pushed for the lawsuit.

FARSCCD and the district are currently in negotiations. If they cannot reach a settlement, they will go to court.

Theoretically, the district could be liable to cover the money spent on litigation by faculty if that were agreed to in negotiations, FARSCCD attorney Marilou Reinhold said.

The meeting was meant to inform faculty about the ongoing litigation after many of them voiced concerns about being represented in a lawsuit they knew little about.

“The fact that we have been in the dark all this time and there’s been so many contending narratives of what’s going on is a very uncomfortable feeling,” Sandy Wood, anthropology professor, said.

FARSCCD leaders argued multiple reasons for the lawsuit, including violation of the district’s non-discrimination policy for individuals who may have been approached to work in Saudi Arabia and Brown Act violations.

Leaders of FARSCCD contend that the sensitive nature of legal matters being negotiated prevented them from communicating with other members, some of whom they believed to have ties to the district, Wright said.

“I know some people in this room are gonna [sic] go right straight to the administration and tell them everything that was said in here. I know that’s a fact,” Wright said.

Early last year, faculty members protested the deal at a board of trustees meeting, citing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s notoriety for violating human rights.

FARSCCD leaders then accused foundation officials of violating the Brown Act by not holding public meetings, not posting meeting times at least 72 hours in advance for the public to see and failing to publicly report action taken in closed sessions.

The Ralph M. Brown Act guarantees the California public’s right to attend and participate in legislative meetings.

Over time, district officials produced the missing minutes spanning five years of public meetings and uploaded it online.

Despite the lawsuit, the district’s foundation finalized the contract.

Attention drawn by FARSCCD’s lawsuit prompted changes to the deal that lowered the potential profit of the agreement from $8 million in March 2015 to $2 million in June of that same year when the deal was finalized.

Changes to the agreement included an escape clause that allowed the foundation to terminate the deal if they were compelled to violate U.S law, and the creation of a joint-venture corporation to represent the interests of the foundation in Saudi Arabia without involving the district.

Negotiations between the district and the faculty association are ongoing, Reinhold said.

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