Editors Note: The Rancho Santiago Community College District Foundation is meeting on this issue today.
Saudi Arabia’s government is notorious for its horrendous track record on human rights. The Gulf nation severely punishes its LGBT community, prohibits women from driving, and refuses entry to anyone whose passport indicates previous entry into Israel. Keeping this in mind, why would any reasonable person, let alone a local community-based public entity, conduct business with such a repressive government?
Two government-run technical schools in Saudi Arabia awarded the Rancho Santiago Community College District Foundation with a $105 million contract.
The contract stipulates that the Foundation will improve and strengthen the schools’ infrastructures. Raúl Rodríguez, the District’s Chancellor, rationalized the contract by announcing the Foundation could receive up to an 8% return. An 8% return on a gross contract of $105 million is a pitiful profit margin and proves why Rodríguez is an educator and not a businessman.
The contract further requires the Foundation to enter into a partnership with a corporation formed under Saudi Arabian laws.
Understandably, the District is facing significant backlash from faculty, staff, the community, and the Anti-Defamation League.
They oppose this contract because the Saudi-run schools will discriminate against prospective school employees based on their gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other factors. After realizing that most of our colleges’ employees would not be able to work at the Saudi colleges or would refuse to do so, Rodríguez announced that employees would be hired locally in Saudi Arabia.
Another troubling component of the District’s controversy is its alleged violations of the Brown Act—California’s open-meeting law.
According to minutes that had to be obtained through a public records request initiated by the faculty, no discussion on the Saudi agreement ever took place at Foundation meetings dating back to 2011.
The Foundation’s Bylaws under Article VI, Section 6, are clear in that the Foundation must follow the Brown Act. Rodríguez has publicly stated that the District’s lawyers advised him that the Foundation is not required to follow the Brown Act—justifying his behind-the-scenes contract deal.
If the Foundation is not required to conform to the Brown Act, why is it part of its governing documents? What lawyer advised Rodríguez that the Brown Act need not be followed? It’s vital to point out that the District’s Board of Trustees was criticized in 2013 for violating the Brown Act on another matter.
Rodriquez himself saw two Grand Jury investigations into Brown Act violations against the San Joaquin Delta CCD while he served as its president prior to arriving at the Rancho Santiago District.
It’s impossible to determine after-the-fact if the Foundation posted physical agendas or minutes—which would be accessible to the public. It can be confirmed through an internet archive search that the only electronic postings for the past five years were the agendas from the March 24 and May 12, 2015 meetings.
The following item that appeared on the May 12, 2015 agenda summarizes the Foundation's self-admission of Brown Act violations: “Approval and ratification of unconditional commitment as to compliance with the Ralph M. Brown Act.”
The facts are simple: we need a new Chancellor, and we need new trustees.
Four trustees are facing re-election in 2016 and this board desperately needs to be rebooted. Together, we can accomplish this by visiting the voting booth on Election Day and choosing new representatives. Our elected trustees must be dedicated to honoring the District’s mission of high quality education and providing a strong workforce for the local economy, not the economy on a different continent.
Bob Dylan once wrote, “The times, they are a-changin.”
I hope he’s right.
Ryan Ahari, a Political Science and African American Studies major with the class of 2016 at UCLA, is part of the Bruin Lobby Corps with Undergraduate Students Association Council.