Rancho Santiago’s Saudi Deal Is Apparently Back From the Dead

Rancho Santiago Community College District Chancellor Raul Rodriguez (right) and the district foundation's consultant Christopher Mackie (left) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Rancho Santiago Community College District Chancellor Raul Rodriguez (right) and the district foundation's consultant Christopher Mackie (left) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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The Rancho Santiago Community College District Foundation’s controversial deal to provide consulting work to Saudi Arabian colleges, which a year ago appeared dead, has apparently gained new life.

In January 2016, six months after the contract was approved amid heavy criticism, there was no board in place for the joint venture in which the foundation would provide support to the Colleges of Excellence, which the Saudi government’s initiative to expand its technical colleges.

Meanwhile, other colleges had pulled out of similar consulting arrangements and the Colleges of Excellence was reportedly being investigated by the country’s anti-corruption commission.

But under an updated contract approved last month, Rancho Santiago Chancellor Raul Rodriguez, and Vice Chancellor Enrique Perez, will oversee the hiring of 12 to 15 “coaches” who will train administrators and faculty of one of the Saudi colleges.

The original idea was to give district employees first priority for the training work, but controversy erupted when it became clear that district faculty who are Jewish or female would not be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia for the consulting work.

Critics called the arrangement discriminatory and possibly illegal under California and U.S. federal law. Rodriguez said he didn’t support the Saudi government’s stance but defended the proposed arrangement as legal.

The final contract now apparently relies on training staff who would be hired from outside the district.

And while the original proposal was worth about $35 million per year to the district, foundation officials say the scaled-down deal will generate a little over $1 million in total for the district over the next three years.

When the new deal came up for approval on Dec. 6, foundation board member Arianna Barrios noted that the original value “was much greater than what we’re looking at now.” It seemed like the district went through “a lot of heartache” for what will end up being a relatively small amount of money, she said.

In response to Barrios, Perez, who is also the foundation’s executive director, said he and other district officials were gaining experience that could translate into further international consulting work and more revenue for the district.

“For community colleges to enter the international education sphere, you need to have experience,” said Perez, who is also a vice chancellor at the college district. The foundation is looking at additional consulting opportunities in countries like China, he added.

As for the reduction in value, Perez said the district was initially looking at consulting for 10 or 12 Saudi colleges, but is now just working for one. And the Saudi institution has financial responsibility for the contract – including covering all costs – which means less money for the district, he said.

Yet critics say the main problem isn’t the terms of the deal, but that the college district is doing business with a government that has a deplorable human rights record, including punishing homosexual acts with death.

“Saudi Arabia is a human rights violator. They imprison, they torture, and they kill homosexuals, Jews, women and people [who] dissent from their point of view,” said local activist Thomas Gordon, in comments to foundation board members just before they approved the new contract.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when Santa Ana College is getting into bed and doing business with” such a regime, he added.

Rodriguez, the district’s chancellor – who also serves on the foundation board – responded that the consulting work can help change that reality.

“Nobody I think is endorsing that type of behavior, but at the same time, if you want to see change,” it’s important to “roll up” one’s sleeves and get involved, Rodriguez said.

In the past year or two, several colleges in the U.S., Canada, and United Kingdom have pulled out of their Saudi education contracts, saying they weren’t profitable. In one case, Algonquin College in Ottawa, Canada said it had lost $5.8 million on its Saudi campus, according to a newspaper report in the Ottawa Citizen.

Rodriguez acknowledged that some colleges did lose money, but asserted that was “not the case” at Algonquin. He said it turned out that college gained $5 to 6 million in “additional earnings,” and that all of the financial risk for the Rancho Santiago deal would be on its Saudi partner.

The foundation board voted 5-0 to approve the contract. Voting in favor were Rodriguez, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union executive Kristin Crellin, Wells Fargo executive David Coffaro, public affairs consultant and Rancho Santiago district board member Barrios, and municipal law attorney Todd Litfin of Rutan & Tucker.

One board member with voting power was absent: AT&T Regional Vice President Richard Porras.

(Click here to read the updated contract.)

The status of the reported corruption investigation into the Colleges of Excellence did not come up during the discussion at the Dec. 6 meeting, and after that meeting Rodriguez said he had no new knowledge of the investigation.

He didn’t return repeated phone messages Monday and Tuesday regarding whether there have been any new developments since the December meeting.

The district’s board is next scheduled to meet on Feb. 6, while the foundation’s next meeting is slated for March 14.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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  • OCservant_Leader

    This self-dealing masked as a “public benefit” is unbelievable.

    This deal makes no sense — on any level. More “fake news” PR from the OC.

    The amount of money this little group is going to pocket (called graft) must be a lot for them to risk this absurd swindle.

  • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

    Will they stop starving and bombing the poor people in Yemen?

    • LFOldTimer

      The Nobel Peace Prize winner who dropped over 26,000 bombs on 7 different nations in 2016 will get evicted from the White House in 10 days.

      Hang in there. Hope springs eternal.

      • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

        Eight years nothing but wars for his globalist bankster sponsors. Not even in Chicago did anything better happen. Chicago, mirror image of the decline of our nation. Such a waste of what could have been a great legacy. In over his head. George Soros needs to pay for doing this to us. He needs to pay big. How is that devil worshipper even alive still?

        • LFOldTimer

          780 homicides in Chicago in 2016. A record number. Mostly black on black crime. And the first black President was silent. He refused to acknowledge it much less do something to stop it.

          Trump hasn’t even been sworn into office yet and has already warned Mayor Raum Emanuel (former Obama COS) that if he doesn’t take action to stop the murders Trump will send the Feds in.

          Who’s a better friend to the black folk? Obama (D) or Trump (R)?

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            Point on. The horrific human suffering in the ME is his legacy. I have seen videos of people dancing in the streets of Syria when Trump won. And boy, do they despise Clinton. All this warmongering never truly covered by main media. A shameful bloody legacy. What good did the man do? Something, someone? All we got was taqiyya in everything.

          • LFOldTimer

            Clinton took millions from Saudi Arabia then arranged a massive weapons deal. We sold SA $29 BILLION dollars worth of American made fighter jets! ha.

            I laugh at the lemmings who want Trump investigated but are completely silent about all the corrupt behavior that applies to Hillary. No investigation needed! ha.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            Obama. McCain. Graham. ISIS sponsors》 2300 Humvees. Toyota trucks. Orange jumpsuits used by poor people they beheaded. Now we know why McCain “ran” for president. All these warmongers have committed treason by arming our enemies. I have seen video of little children being beheaded in front of family or vice versa family slaughtered, children made to watchm before they hung children for being Christian. I have also seen Russian troops picking up the mess our beloved warlord useful idiots left behind in East Aleppo. Eight years, wars with 7 countries, 268B, 26K bombs. Press in collusion, keep it all hush hush. But Trump says mean things. I am so disgusted at the human suffering our taxes paid for. I can’t even.

          • LFOldTimer

            I feel incredibly sad for the young generations who will suffer the consequences of the madness and actions of our leadership that has turned the character of our nation upside-down.

            At the same time, I’m damn glad I’m as old as I am.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            Me, too.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            Plane left yesterday from Turkey to Yemen with our beloved alQueda contractors who were in Idlib after being pushed out of East Aleppo. This war economy us really getting old. We need to end the Fed and it’s play money and restore what we can of our homeland economy. War is an easy way to hold us up but totally unviable anymore. Dafuq with the globalists. All of them, worldwide, getting slapped. Now that people know better. France is next. LePen.

          • LFOldTimer

            It’s easy to beat up on and topple governments of small nations that don’t have the resources or wherewithal to defend themselves. It’s not so easy when another nuclear superpower (Russia) got involved (Syria) and protected the established government. Then Obama the big bully backed down. That’s the reason Obama has targeted Putin. Putin made Obama look like an empty suit and the tool that he is. Obama is no better than a schoolyard bully who robs first graders of their lunch money. Sometimes the only cure for a bully is a proverbial punch to the nose.

  • mutheta

    Reporter Nick Gerda cited the Ottawa Sun:
    ” $5.8 million: The total estimated loss incurred by Algonquin College Jazan, including operating losses, the cost of ending the contract, severance payments to staff, paying suppliers and legal fees”

    Chancellor Raul Rodriguez: Disputes the Ottawa Sun article claiming Algonquin actually gained $5-6 million in actual earnings.

    Who should we believe?

    A better question is why is a public community college doing consulting work overseas? If this was such a lucrative venture, why aren’t other public community colleges engaging in these projects?

    Lots of questions; very few answers.

    • David Zenger

      “A better question is why is a public community college doing consulting work overseas?”

      Good question.

      “If this was such a lucrative venture, why aren’t other public community colleges engaging in these projects?”

      Good question. Another good question is how a government agency can compete with a private sector consultancy.

      Either we are subsidizing the Saudi operation or they really want to have the stamp of an American educational institution on their endeavor. But a junior college? Really?

  • LFOldTimer

    Who’s the guy in the middle wearing the indoor shades? Why is he unnamed? Protected identity? Was he one of the Saudi’s who funded 20% of Hillary Clinton’s campaign war chest? Easy come easy go.

  • David Zenger

    There are plenty of technical training companies in the private sector who can do this, and no doubt do it much better than this foundation. So what gives? At the heart of this must be some subsidy that makes this arrangement better for the Saudis.

    Hey, Raul, here’s a suggestion: instead of gallivanting around the globe, try to focus on graduating literate students in two years.