Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Yes, it is a bold foreign partnership that has generated considerable controversy. But it is also an unprecedented opportunity for UC Berkeley to get involved at ground level in building a new research university, performing stellar multinational research, and facilitating constructive relationships in the Middle East.

The collaboration with KAUST, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, has involved a careful consensus-building process with many college and campus constituencies, including engineering faculty, the Chancellor, the Provost, the Academic Senate Task Force on Industry–University Relations and its Committee on the Status of Women and Ethnic Minorities.

Our esteemed Department of Mechanical Engineering will help KAUST build its faculty and academic curriculum in return for a substantial gift over the next five years. The funds will support joint research as well as ME’s own graduate fellowships and lab equipment. For the joint research, projects of mutual benefit to California, the Middle East and the world have already been identified in the areas of seawater desalinization, creation of lightweight construction materials and development of renewable energy sources. The department will also allocate some of the funds to increase its efforts to recruit and retain women faculty and students.

The funding, although welcome, is not the prime motivating factor. Here we have a chance to participate visibly in a truly global research enterprise that is positioning itself as one of the leading research institutions in the world. KAUST is committed to being a genuinely co-educational institution, an isolated but noteworthy reversal of Saudi Arabia’s tradition of excluding women, Israelis, homosexuals and those outside the Islamic faith. We are optimistic that KAUST has the potential to be a bubble in the kingdom, maybe even a beachhead, signaling a new infusion of the ideals that we at Berkeley take for granted as inseparable from an open academic environment that is home to the citizens of the world.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

S. Shankar Sastry
Dean, College of Engineering
NEC Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences
Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering
Email Dean Sastry

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