MAYVILLE, N.D.-Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, said a partnership between Bismarck State College and an institute in Saudi Arabia that exclusively teaches male students would discriminate against women and asked whether it reflects the state university system's values.
"The agreement must discriminate against women," Nelson told members of the State Board of Higher Education at their meeting Wednesday, March 28, at Mayville State University. "No woman can be hired."
Bismarck State College was chosen for a five-year contract to provide curriculum and training at the National Power Academy, located in eastern Saudi Arabia.
Nelson said he is concerned that the contract could jeopardize federal funding for Bismarck State College under federal laws prohibiting discrimination. Lawyers have said the partnership is legal, and Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen said the Attorney General's Office was involved in the deal.
Even if the arrangement adheres to the "letter of the law," Nelson said he is concerned.
"Does this represent the values of higher education in North Dakota?" he asked board members. "Are you willing to discriminate to raise money?"
Skogen defended the partnership, and noted that contract negotiations are continuing. Earlier, Bismarck State College administrators said the deal could net the college several million dollars over the next five years.
"This is not a scheme," Skogen said. Bismarck State College responded to a global request for proposals, and was one of three entities selected; the others are from Germany and Great Britain.
The segregation of the sexes is the norm in Saudi Arabia, Skogen said. "We're responding to their social and religious mores." He added later: "I don't think I can go into a foreign country and impose my mores against them."
Skogen, who noted that Saudi Arabia is a "very strong ally" of the United States, said there were many conversations on the campus about the partnership. Chancellor Mark Hagerott has praised the initiative, which he has said "shows that North Dakota has truly global capabilities."
Don Morton, president of the state board, thanked Nelson for his input. Board members gave no response.