A possible $6 million contract between Cal Poly's engineering program and a Saudi Arabian university inspired more than 100 students, faculty and administrators to attend a Cal Poly Academic Senate meeting on the afternoon of March 4.
The proposed program would enable Cal Poly engineering faculty to help create four engineering degree programs at the Jubail University College (JUC) in Saudi Arabia. However, the oil-rich country has a long history of discrimination and even violence toward women, Jews, and homosexuals, which has caused concern for many at Cal Poly.
"By entering the contract we are justifying their discriminatory tendencies," said Christina Chiappe, president of Cal Poly College Republicans and a social science senior. "We're taking steps backwards on our part for something that wouldn't truly benefit our school."
Though the one-year-old JUC is a co-ed institution with 435 students, the engineering department is comprised of only men and has no plans to incorporate women.
Only administrators and senators were allowed to speak at Tuesday's meeting, but students stood around the room and made their opinions known with large multi-colored signs painted with phrases such as, "How can you put a price on equality?" and "Students united over the dividing deal."
"We believe there should be some forum for [students] to speak and it was made clear they wouldn't be willing to do that," said Chiappe.
Each year dozens of sponsorship contracts are made at Cal Poly and it's not part of the process to publicize them or put them up for public review, said associate dean of the College of Engineering Ed Sullivan.
Sullivan agreed Saudi Arabia has human rights problems but said that it was evident the country was making significant changes.
He said he hopes Cal Poly's presence will encourage even more change.
"I think it'd be a very good thing to have forums and I'd be delighted to be a part of it," he said.
Administrators also said the contract is close to completion and the school recently signed off on the latest adjustment to the document.
The contract will benefit Cal Poly by giving the campus more international attention, allowing professors to pursue more scholarship abroad, and globalizing the engineering department, Sullivan said.
"We're trying to give our students a global perspective," he said. "We're trying to do anything we can do to have international opportunities to open the eyes of our students."