In light of the CIA report on Prince bin Salman, Claudia Dalby asks if UCD management will take a stand on something that might hurt them financially, or stick to their profit margins.
Over the weekend, the CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The murdered journalist had been a sharp critic of the Saudi Arabian government, specifically on its domestic and international policy. His disappearance and murder has rightly shaken the world, media and political landscape.
US President Donald Trump has responded by calling the CIA conclusion “premature but possible”, but affirming that the US will keep trade ties with Saudi Arabia: “They give us a lot of jobs and a lot of business and economic development. They have been a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.”
The Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 60 people are currently imprisoned for expressing views that go against the regime of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Although in this year, the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia was lifted; women’s rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul, and siblings Raif and Samar Badawi, who were arrested for campaigning and driving despite the ban, are still behind bars.
On 4th November, DCU announced that after reports of Khashoggi’s murder were made public, it was starting to review its relationship with Saudi Arabian university Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh, one of the largest public women’s universities in the world. DCU signed an agreement with PNU in 2012 to deliver two undergraduate courses there: a Bachelor in Business Studies International Finance BSIF, and Bachelor of Marketing, Innovation and Technology.
The Journal.ie reported that secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Séamus Dooley, stated that it is “unconscionable that a college which has a distinguished record – not just in journalism but also in politics and public affairs – would be involved in an ongoing basis at this stage.” He acknowledged that it “could be a potentially difficult decision to DCU on an economic level but on an ethical level it’s a no brainer.” However, DCUSU President Vito Moloney Burke has drawn attention to the students in PNU and that decisions should be made “with their interest taken into account.”
UCD holds ties to Saudi Arabia. In 2013, NovaUCD produced an energy-efficient wastewater management technology company called OxyMem Ltd, which is based in Athlone. Major oil producer Saudi Aramco, owned by the government of Saudi Arabia, became an investor of OxyMem in 2017. Saudi Aramco has both the world’s second-largest proven crude oil reserves, at more than 270 billion barrels, and second-largest daily oil production. Its financial results are undisclosed. With this investment, Saudi Arabia aims to improve the kingdom’s water production and supply needs by reducing energy consumption and other costs at water treatment plants. The technology has the potential to bring wastewater treatment closer to energy neutrality by reducing energy consumption by up to 75%.
Unlike DCU’s courses which it provides to Saudi Arabia, investment in a limited company makes ties tougher to sever. Indeed though, unlike DCU, UCD does not have students in Saudi Arabia and is involved with them on a profit and innovation basis alone. They could distance themselves and potentially lose out economically. However, do we even have reason to expect that UCD would, if it could, take such a risk? UCD prides itself on being a global university – but the news of Irish government and companies questioning their connections to Saudi Arabia would also send a message to the global stage, of non-tolerance with human rights violators.
It is hard to earnestly believe that UCD management would find a place to be passionate about taking a position. This year, UCD stood firmly in its decision to close the Common Room, a place of community and leisure for staff. Understandably, the student body has not been up in arms about something which barely concerns them. But it does mean something to students that UCD management did not comply with the decision that would affect the well-being and working conditions of staff – particularly when the provided excuse of needing teaching space was more or less debunked. Ultimately, President Deeks stating the that closure of the common room will not be reversed shows where UCD’s priorities lie – in profit and global rankings, and not the genuine experience of those working and studying at the university. It tells us that our well-being is relevant only when it can be viewed in the profit margins of UCD’s annual turnover.
On Friday 16th November, USI voted to boycott catering company Aramark, which is the contracted food provider of three direct provision centres in Ireland, where it serves food so below par that residents have been sick and hospitalised from eating it. Aramark is one of the principle food providers on campus, despite there being a student-run campaign to boycott the UCD restaurant, Subway and Chopped. As the campaign unfortunately coincided with the Repeal campaign, there was less momentum for the cause at the time. However, there is now space for it to pick up again. But why should it be down to students to initiate change when our university ignores the history and impact of these decisions in the first place?
DCU had no financial or even social imperative to review its links to Saudi Arabia – very few were holding them accountable. In the face of a human rights violation, it took to its own initiative and made a statement that it will be reviewing its position. Within the university there are doubtlessly countless arguments for and against this decision but the decision comes with the imperative that there should be a motive beyond profit that inspires the actions of a university. It would be nice to feel like we were in a university that stands on a principal level for something – and for staying far away from anything that Trump considers acceptable behaviour.