Jack Wilson, VP of OPSEU 415 and professor at Algonquin has been a vocal critic of the college’s investment in Saudi Arabia since it opened two years ago.
Following the recent return of college president Cheryl Jensen and Doug Wotherspoon, VP International and Strategic Priorities, from the Kingdom, Wilson was skeptical of their proclamations of pie in the sky.
A law passed in Dec. 2013 criminalizes any criticism of the Saudi government, which has ties to an ultra-conservative Islamic denomination that promotes Sharia law. Wilson questioned how Algonquin can claim to espouse Canadian values and promote human rights when they seek out funding from one of the worst human rights abusers in the world.
“If North Korea released a couple prisoners would we say ‘Ok, that’s progress,’ and invest there?” he asked. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask that countries we invest in share our values.”
In 2013, when the first campus was opened, Wilson was critical not only of the gender segregation on campus but also human rights abuses by the Saudi government. Earlier that year, five Yemeni men were beheaded and publicly displayed in the same city as Algonquin’s campus. Although there is a female campus now, the recent public flogging of activist Raif Badawi has brought widespread criticism to the Saudi regime, raising questions for college officials.
Algonquin’s delegation arrived in Riyad on January 9, the same day Badawi’s first 50 lashings were carried out, but were not aware of any local coverage of the event. In an interview with Times reporter Joseph Gedeon,Wotherspoon called it “the saddest thing in the world” but pointed out that the late King Abdullah temporarily suspended Badawi’s sentence. Wilson scoffs at the notion that this could be considered progress.
“They haven’t rescinded the lashes, just delayed them,” he said. “I don’t see that as any sort of reform.”
He does, however, support the argument for change, so long as the country in question is receptive to reform. The glacial pace of reform in the Kingdom clearly proves the opposite.
Wilson believes that the Ontario government is partially to blame for Algonquin’s dilemma by cutting funding, however, there is still no reason for them to be doing business with dubious contacts like the House of Saud. Nick0060@algonquinlive.com