The following is based on a much longer, more detailed statement supported by 550+ emails and documents. Given the nature and location of KAUST, I do not believe that any discussions about academic misconduct and research integrity can be divorced from conversations about KAUST’s wider role in the promotion of liberal values and human rights in Saudi Arabia. These two spheres are linked and profoundly affect each other. I am personally aware of a number of other potential scandals at KAUST. If no one speaks up, nothing is going to change. If I had known then what I know now, I would most certainly have given KAUST a very wide berth – postdocs be warned!

 


What would you do if you discovered ongoing academic misconduct, involving your supervisor, in your research group? Would you inform the university, and risk being ostracised by friends and colleagues and potentially damaging your career, or become a de facto accomplice by keeping quiet?


 

I was a founding postdoctoral research fellow at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.

This was a new graduate-only university that recruited the cream of academia in the hopes of moving the country towards a new, knowledge-based economy, as well as advancing social reforms begun under the late King Abdullah.

Fifty percent of my funding was from an international collaborative metagenomics project investigating bacterial communities in the Red Sea – with one of the aims being to discover enzymes of potential industrial interest. My Supervisor was the Center Director of a multidisciplinary Research Center. Due to the nature of the Center, we had two Deans, a Swiss Dean of Biological Sciences and an American Dean of Mathematics and Computer Science.

In our group, I was given a high level of responsibility, having also been tasked with all aspects of setting up a new multimillion dollar laboratory, including meeting with the architects in London. My Supervisor did not have a laboratory background himself. After my first year at KAUST, the administrative workload, combined with extended trips overseas to work with our collaborators, and the normal demands of research, became exhausting, and so I negotiated with my Supervisor to spend the second year working remotely, but still on campus, and to focus exclusively on research-based activities. It was also at this point that I was offered a promotion to Research Scientist, but which I decided to decline, as due to the university’s shifting policies, I was not sure I wanted to make any further commitments to KAUST or change my employment conditions in any way. At the end of this year of working remotely, I returned to the department to be told that there were plans to put me forward for Faculty. Our international collaborators proposed that due to my mixed biochemistry and bioinformatics background, I set up a functional genomics group to process samples in parallel with them. There were also discussions about making me an Adjunct Professor at their university.

Unfortunately, around the same time — and with a fresh set of eyes — I began to notice and worry about what I regarded to be dubious ethical practices in my group. I initially thought these were mistakes, but as I voiced my concerns to my Supervisor, our relationship deteriorated and I became increasingly unpopular. It also appeared to me that there were attempts to conceal what I raised.

 

KAUST Beacon October 2010

KAUST’s public commitment to research integrity

KAUST’s position on research integrity was quite clear, publicly celebrating in the October 2010 issue of the University newspaper, the Beacon (see excerpt right, click to enlarge), KAUST’s attendance of the second World Conference on Research Integrity held in Singapore that July, as well as the then recent drafting of its Research Code Of Conduct.

In an accompanying interview with the French Vice President of Research (VPR) after he had been awarded the prestigious Erasmus Medal, “ […] he stressed that we need to build a culture at KAUST that recognizes that nothing is so important that it justifies unethical practices […] ” and “ […] at KAUST we have to talk about research integrity — bring it out into the open and tell people what is right and what is wrong.

 

 

Multiple instances of ongoing academic misconduct

In early March 2012, I reported, with evidence, my concerns about the alleged plagiarism of a grant written by another postdoc in my group before he came to KAUST and resubmitted without his name after he left, misattribution/plagiarism of a flagship text-mining system used by our group, gift authorship, forgery of a signature for submission to a journal, funding mismanagement and/or possible fraud on my main research project, and possible conflicts of interest between our group and a private consultancy run by my Supervisor and his business partner (who was also employed in our group).

During the subsequent investigation, additional allegations arose. These included alleged further funding irregularities and IP leakage between my main research project and another metagenomics project run by a Principal Research Scientist in our group who was funded by a campus-based industrial collaboration, as well as the alleged secret development of a tool by our group for covertly bulk webscraping academic publishing metrics from the Thomson Reuters’ Web of Knowledge website. This tool was allegedly created on the instructions of the KAUST VPR, with the results being remotely and regularly accessed by personnel in his Office.

 

Multiple conflicts of interest

When I made the allegations, I had no idea the number of people (up to 22) that would eventually be implicated in some way. Nor did I fully appreciate the many potential conflicts of interest that may have played a role in subsequent decision-making. Of these, it is perhaps worth mentioning that my Supervisor’s daughter was the Postdoctoral and Researcher Support Co-ordinator and worked in the Office of the VPR. The VPR was my Supervisor’s line manager and was eventually implicated in the webscraping allegation. The Principal Research Scientist involved in the IP leakage allegation had, for at least a year, been officially employed as an advisor (Senior Fellow for Academic Strategy) in the Office of the Founding President of KAUST, while also being permitted to conduct research on projects in our group and the Center. Despite not being Faculty, he then became the Associate Director for our Research Center. It later also appeared that I had been reallocated to his sub-group without my knowledge.

 

A reluctant start to the investigation

After emailing my concerns, with supporting evidence, to the Swiss Dean of Biological Sciences and the Swiss Provost (who did not reply), I met with the Dean. At our meeting, I felt that he downplayed what I had found and, without directly addressing the evidence or my interpretation of it, appeared to be of the opinion that it did not warrant further investigation. Towards the end of our conversation, when I remained unconvinced, he suggested that I rather approach my other Dean (of Mathematics and Computer Science). I then re-sent my arguments and evidence to the Provost (who again did not reply), the Australian VP of Human Resources (HR) (who weeks later replied to inform me that the Provost was “following this matter”) and the VPR (who also did not reply). Based on the VPR’s comments about research integrity in the Beacon, I then tried to book an appointment with him. He refused to see me and passed a message through his secretary that the Research Centers were not his responsibility and that I should speak to my Dean.

I then approached the American Dean of Mathematics and Computer Science. His response was startlingly different. He responded almost immediately. He read everything that I sent him before our meeting and seemed to grasp and agree with my concerns. He offered to present what I had found to the Administration, but then seemed to have trouble in the following weeks with meeting with his superiors. In contrast with the VPR’s response, the Mathematics Dean stated that there were future plans for restructuring, but that at that time, the Research Centers were still officially the direct responsibility of the VPR.

After my meeting with the Mathematics Dean, the Biology Dean then unexpectedly requested a second meeting with me. When I established that it was to do with the allegations, I asked if the Mathematics Dean could also attend. The meeting was then cancelled and I was informed that the Mathematics Dean had been put in charge of the investigation by the Provost. This was now mid-April — almost 6 weeks after initially approaching the Administration.

 

Public MOU for plagiarised grant

At around the same time, in April 2012, the Singaporean Founding President of KAUST publicly signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a local company, encompassing the research of the plagiarised grant which was the subject of one of the allegations. The two professors (including my Supervisor), who had allegedly plagiarised the grant, were publicly congratulated in the May 2012 issue of the Beacon. According to the KAUST Research Code of Conduct, the KAUST President was the ultimate arbiter of any misconduct investigation. However, the MOU was signed despite the KAUST Administration knowing that the grant’s provenance was in question. This, combined with the surrounding publicity, arguably pre-judged any outcome.

 

Final year routine contract extension denied

My postdoc contract was a year shorter than the length of the international metagenomics project I was working on. HR confirmed to me and also later again to the Mathematics Dean that in these circumstances postdoc contracts were extended as a matter of routine. It is perhaps worth noting that despite initial promises, postdocs at KAUST did not receive actual contracts with detailed terms of employment. What is referred to here is really a rudimentary one or two page MOU with remuneration details and start and end dates.

I had made the single largest intellectual contribution to the project from our Center. This was in the form of a massive bioprospecting project database, which the Mathematics Dean told me when I initially met with him, was one of the largest on campus. This is the database that subsequently became the subject of the IP leakage allegation.

With regards to the contract extension, I had a proven significant project contribution as well as the support of HR, the Mathematics Dean, the KAUST department funding the project, and my international collaborators, including the lead Principal Investigator on the project, who repeatedly expressed his wish for me to continue to work with them.

Inexplicably, responsibility for this decision was then left by the Provost and/or President for the VPR to make, despite the fact that I was a complainant with allegations that appeared to implicate the VPR, his multiple conflicts of interest with regards to my Supervisor, and the project being a subject of the investigation.

With my contract due to expire at the end of the month, I met with the VPR and the British Head of the KAUST Funding Department on 4 June 2012. At our meeting to discuss my contract extension, the VPR told me that the metagenomics project would be ended early (which it never was). He also stated that there would be an External Review in August to decide the project’s fate. As my contract ended before then, I would therefore be unavailable to contribute. Furthermore, when I attempted to air my concerns about what I regarded as misconduct affecting the project, he immediately shut me down. It was clear that the extension was not granted, but that it was not because of my performance or competence.

After the meeting, I emailed my concerns regarding what was discussed in the meeting to the Mathematics Dean. This included the project Review outcome potentially being pre-judged through the exclusion of my testimony and work. I later included the VPR and the Head of the Funding Department on this email.

The VPR then sent me the following email (click to enlarge):

EMAIL- KAUST-VPR

While it was openly sent to me, I was spoken about in the third person, which seemed to suggest additional blind copied recipients. In the email, the VPR reversed his statement about the project no longer continuing, claimed that I had a “slight psychological problem” (the first instance of what became a growing theme of mental health slurs) and insinuated that I had done something wrong, but without ever providing any further details or reasoning. I actually regard this email as an attempt at gaslighting and intimidation.

Both the Mathematics Dean and the Head of the Funding Department (who was a witness to the meeting) later confirmed to me that they were not included on this email by the VPR. It is still not clear who the other intended recipients were, but I gave it to the Dean, and later the KAUST Detective, to include in the investigation.

 

Two month extension becomes trial of competence

The Mathematics Dean, who appeared to be having trouble making progress on the investigation, then proposed that I be given a two month contract extension for pastoral reasons, particularly as the decision to exclude me from the final year of the project had been made so late, and caught everyone by surprise. This was also with the support and encouragement of the Funding Department.

I was then unexpectedly asked to provide a work plan and deliverables for these two months, a condition I was told was imposed by the VPR. This work plan was then reviewed by the VPR and my Supervisor, again despite their conflicts of interest. The deadlines for the various deliverables were then brought forward, with time for the most complicated being reduced from two months to two weeks. The VPR then also introduced a condition that if I did not meet any of these deliverables, I would be immediately terminated. This was very clearly not about the work and was a very clear breach of one of the clauses of the KAUST Research Code of Conduct making it a serious disciplinary offence to target a complainant punitively. However, no action was taken by the Administration. HR informed the Funding Department that what the VPR had asked for was actually illegal under Saudi law with notice periods under such conditions being 30 days. I gathered from this that this condition had never been requested before at KAUST.

With the contract extension having become a trial of my own competence, I was very reluctant to remain at KAUST. However, I was convinced to stay by both the Dean and the Head of the Funding Department, particularly for the sake of the investigation. The External Project Review mentioned by the VPR was then postponed by him again, this time to October, when I would again not be available.

In order to process huge amounts of project data timeously, I had used my own money to build a database server that was faster than anything available in our Center. Every possible bottleneck was addressed — from watercooling of the multi-core CPUs to RAID arrays of solid state hard drives and large amounts of ECC RAM. Processing time on the database was reduced from hours to minutes. While the contract extension was being discussed, the Principal Research Scientist from my Center had allegedly been in meetings to discuss the metagenomics project database with the VPR. The former then began to forcefully demand that I hand the database over to him. As a result of this, the database server was moved to the Head of the Funding Department’s office for safekeeping until IP governance rules could be agreed upon by all parties.

It was also at this point that the American KAUST Detective became involved, as well as another witness to the webscraping allegation, who supplied a copy of the source code and log files. The KAUST Detective reported directly to the Saudi Executive Vice President (EVP) of Finance and Administration.

Using the database server remotely as well as an array of other laptops and computers, multi-tasking and working literally around the clock, I managed to meet the much tightened deadlines. I did not want to give anyone an excuse to distract attention from what I had found.

 

Position in another Research Center blocked

By the end of the two month extension (August 2012), I had been offered a position in another Research Center, from which I could continue to work out the remainder of the metagenomics project. However, when it came to sign the contract, the VPR refused without providing any explanation. He instead demanded that I hand over the project database to the Principal Research Scientist and my Supervisor. This was despite potential concerns about IP leakage issues being raised directly with the VPR by my Funding Department.

The Head of the Funding Department then set up a meeting on 1 September 2012, between the Principal Research Scientist, a KAUST IP Specialist, the Grant Administrator and myself (now without an employment contract). At this meeting the IP Specialist confirmed that the IP rules for my international metagenomics project were not compatible with the Principal Research Scientist’s industrial sponsor’s IP rules. The latter, however, still insisted that I hand over the database to him.

Shortly after the meeting, IT Security seized the database server from the office of the Head of the Funding Department, allegedly acting on the orders of the VPR. I then received a phone call from an HR consultant to tell me that the VPR wanted my wife and I off campus as soon as possible and that we must go. When I mentioned the investigation and the job offer in the other Research Center, the consultant said she would confer with the VP of HR. She then phoned back to repeat that we needed to leave. She also said that the Principal Research Scientist was waiting at IT Security to acquire the database and I needed to go and hand it over to him. In desperation, I emailed the President and the EVP of Finance and Administration to explain the situation and ask them to intervene. Within minutes, my KAUST email account was permanently suspended. I then re-emailed them from my personal account but never received a response. Fortunately, I had been in the habit of making regular backups of my email accounts and so continued to have access to correspondence and supporting documentation for the investigation.

 

Secret meetings and paranoia

KAUST became a rather dark and sinister place. I was told about meetings of up to 10 people in the campus library allegedly including my Supervisor, the Principal Research Scientist, members of my Center and the Office of the VPR and even IT Security, at which it was claimed that I had information that would “destroy” the university. The Mathematics Dean later told me he was woken late at night by a phone call and told the same thing but without any specifics as to what that meant. My Center claimed my database server as their property and I was forced to prove that it wasn’t. I was being repeatedly asked if I was in possession of “sensitive” and “business” information but without any specifics about what that might actually mean. I’ve later surmised that this might possibly have been referring to the source code and log files for the webscraping tool – which I did not have. I was told about conversations regarding using keyloggers to steal my passwords, and had to prove that the Head of the Funding Department had not had a login to my database server while it was in his office. He later told me that he had also been the subject of a smear for which at least six people were subsequently fired and had left KAUST shortly after we did.

I found it impossible to connect my laptop to the campus residential network and was only able to use an iPad but with frequent disconnects and browser crashes while I tried to access the internet and my personal email account. The IP phones in our house stopped working properly and my cell phone began to behave strangely with conversations sounding like I was on a speaker phone and with calls ending suddenly. My wife’s phone on the same cell network was unaffected. A colleague informed me that IT Security allegedly had a SIM card cloner which he had seen and which they had acknowledged as being as such, but which they professed not to know how to work yet.

Things got so nasty, and my wife and I felt so physically threatened, that I ended up phoning the British Embassy for help. They recommended we leave campus and go to a local police station but did not seem to be able to offer any other assistance.

 

Post-contract stay as confidential witness

I was then asked by the VP of HR to stay on campus as a confidential witness, on full pay, which I did for the month of September. I later understood that this may have been at the request of the Saudi EVP for Finance and Administration. I spent my days giving long, detailed statements with supporting evidence to the KAUST Detective, and my nights with IT Security working on transferring the massive project database to one of their servers. After being asked again about this “sensitive” information and once I had handed over the database, IT Security securely wiped the entire server and gave it back to me. The database was collected by my Center, without any mention of any IP governance rules being agreed upon. Interestingly, my laptop and external drives, which also had work on them, were left alone. This would suggest that wiping my server was not about protecting KAUST IP. However, it has left me with little to show for the huge amount of work I had done.

 

Sustained campaign of threats and slander

At no point did anyone at KAUST ever attempt to present a robust counter-argument or alternative innocent explanation for what I had found and believed to be misconduct. Instead, I was subject to a barrage of character smears. I was told by trusted colleagues that I was being described at various times and in various public settings as “not being in a good mental place”, being suicidal, having been deported, was a “rogue postdoc”, a security risk and some kind of superhacker who was responsible for the virus then wiping out 30 000 Saudi Aramco computers on the other side of the country. My Supervisor allegedly made threats in front of witnesses that he would ensure I never worked in academia again. I was told that the Principal Research Scientist allegedly attempted to unsuccessfully convince our collaborators to exclude me from contributing to an analysis for a journal article as I would be “too busy packing”. For the first time since I had known him, my Supervisor submitted a manuscript to a journal with my name misspelt. While other alumni and ex-colleagues were listed on our Center’s website as such, I was completely removed. This was something I was not entirely unhappy about but it helped feed potential rumours about having been fired and/or deported. Wherever I could, I attempted to document what was said, and where and when, and record potential witnesses as well as report it. I was told that HR and the Legal Department would deal with the smears but as far as I know nothing further was done, and no one ever got back to me about anything I reported.

 

Departure and exclusion from project review

My wife and I left KAUST at the beginning of October 2012 with very low expectations with regards to any outcome from the investigation. The metagenomics External Review went ahead under the supervision of the VPR a day or so after we left. I was later informed that my contribution and the database had been completely excluded, with attempts by my collaborators to mention them to the committee having been allegedly suppressed by the VPR. The project continued for another year, as originally planned, but without the project database that was specifically designed for our laboratory-based collaborators to use.

 

Investigation abandoned and continued conspiracy of silence

After more than 3 years, I recently decided to revisit the investigation and find out what had happened. According to the KAUST Research Code of Conduct (see Appendix 4, pp. 20 – 22), I should have been given a chance to review and contribute to the Ad Hoc Committee Report before it was given to the President for his final decision. I have never seen this report and am now not sure it even exists. The investigation should have been completed within 90 days, barring an extension from the President, and therefore should definitely have been completed by now. As an interested party, the Code of Conduct also obligated KAUST to inform me of any outcome. In fact, a close reading of the Code suggests that there have been multiple breaches of multiple clauses.

When I approached the Mathematics Dean, he told me that he had stepped down as Dean around the same time my wife and I left KAUST. He also told me that, at that point, he and the KAUST Detective had also left the investigation, with the Provost remaining in charge. He wasn’t aware of the official outcome or consequences of the investigation, but knew that it had been prioritised and was of the opinion that the Provost should have had enough time to finish it before the Provost left KAUST for industry, about nine months later, in mid-2013.

When I contacted the ex-Provost, now CTO at Nestlé, he seemed either unable or unwilling to even confirm if he had finished the investigation, and referred me back to KAUST.

I also repeatedly approached the Founding President of KAUST who had left the University about a month after the Provost did, but to no avail.

In the last few days before I left KAUST, I had my first and only meeting with the Provost at which he mentioned that the Biology Dean had written a two page report for the investigation (and with the Mathematics Dean having written so much he was having trouble keeping up with reading it). I therefore attempted to contact the Biology Dean more than once to determine if he knew the outcome but again did not receive a reply. Likewise, despite repeated approaches, I did not receive a reply from the VP of HR. I understood that she, along with the Provost, was one of the recipients of the numerous detailed statements I gave to the KAUST Detective during my post-contract stay as a confidential witness in September 2012.

Finally, I approached a longstanding member of the KAUST President’s International Advisory Council, who stated that he was not aware of any such investigation.

As far as I can conclude, the investigation seems to have been simply abandoned, likewise the metagenomics database of which there is no sign. Many of the people implicated in the allegations, however appear to have since received promotions and contract renewals.

KAUST was meant to be a cutting-edge, world-class university, stocked by the very best of academia. If this is true, then the way this investigation was conducted is a very sad indictment of these supposed academic stars. Without basic integrity, how can a university be expected to fulfil its core functions of teaching and research, let alone any loftier aims?

 

Research integrity, social injustice and human rights

KAUST is not your typical university. Whether is it acknowledged by the academics at KAUST or not, KAUST is an inherently political project. It is only 7 years old, arising out of the late King Abdullah’s Vision of a new House of Wisdom to help wean Saudi Arabia off oil and develop a new knowledge-based economy. The university is a small enclave with world-class aspirations in a country with an appalling human rights record. Token freedoms on campus, taken for granted elsewhere in the world, include women being allowed to drive and decide for themselves how to dress in public, genders being able to freely mix and no religious police.

Many of the founding KAUST community, myself included, were recruited with an almost naive idealism encouraged by the marketers and PR, that, besides doing good science, we were there to help advance social reform in Saudi Arabia. It was, and remains, the perfect fig leaf of respectability to counter accusations of being mere academics-for-purchase.

Working to benefit “the Kingdom, the region and the world”, however, would not appear to include the poorly paid underclass of Filipino, Bangladeshi and Pakistani workers currently servicing the campus. After befriending some towards the end of our time there, we learned that they allegedly lived off-campus in shipping containers, received a boiled egg and 2 slices of white bread for breakfast, were forbidden from socialising with the KAUST community or using any of the campus recreational facilities, and earned a pittance compared to what we were getting. We were not the only people who were reminded of apartheid South Africa. How can KAUST set an example that will improve the Kingdom if it cannot recognise and address social injustice on its own doorstep?

The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has dramatically worsened since the final days of King Abdullah’s reign, with executions under his successor, King Salman, at an all-time high.

“The past year has seen the Kingdom’s human rights record go from bad to worse […] Saudi Arabia has stepped up its horrendous execution spree with at least 151 people executed between January and November 2015 — the highest toll since 1995. Close to half of those executed were for crimes that should not, according to international law, be punishable by death.
[…]
A year after the international outcry over his public flogging, Raif Badawi and dozens of prisoners of conscience remain in prison and at risk of suffering cruel punishments and ill-treatment for their peaceful activism […] ”

 

(from Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia: A year of bloody repression since flogging of Raif Badawi , 8 January 2016)

 

Teenage protestors such as Ali Al-Nimr, Dawood Al Marhoon and Abdullah Al Zaher have been sentenced to death and even, in Al-Nimr’s case, post-mortem crucifixion. While still at KAUST, we were disconcerted to learn that a liberal Saudi blogger had been arrested in Jeddah, practically just down the road from us. This later turned out to be Raif Badawi, who received the first 50 of a 1000 lashes in January 2015, to go with his 10 year prison sentence. His human rights lawyer, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, has also been imprisoned for 15 years while Palestinian poet, Ashraf Fayadh has been sentenced to 800 lashes and 8 years in prison for the crime of apostasy. These are just the people we know about.

All the while, Saudi Arabia hypocritically sits as Chair on the UN Human Rights Council.

This dire state of affairs has eroded any decent moral or ethical justifications for continued association with the current incarnation of Saudi Arabia. This was recognised by 18 Nobel Laureates, who felt so strongly about this that they wrote an open letter to the current KAUST president, published in the UK Independent:

“Dear Professor Chameau,

 

When the new ‘King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’ was inaugurated in 2009 it was recognised as a visionary attempt to ‘rekindle science in the Islamic world’. To mark the significance of the occasion, His Majesty King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited heads of state and Nobel laureates to participate. The undersigned continue to take a profound and sympathetic interest in this visionary undertaking.

 

As members of the international scientific and scholarly community we owe it to KAUST to assist it in becoming a leading institution for education and research. All such academies have the right to assistance from others, world-wide, and everyone is heavily dependent on receiving that assistance.

 

We write out of concern that the fabric of international cooperation may be torn apart by dismay at the severe restrictions on freedom of thought and expression still being applied to Saudi Arabian society. We have no doubt that members of KAUST share that concern, aware that the cruel sentence passed, for example, on Mr. Raif Badawi who established a forum for open discussion, sent a shock around the world. We take real hope from the fact that the government of Saudi Arabia, responding to international outcry, is re-considering that sentence.

 

It is in this context of a new willingness to listen to pleas on behalf of tolerance that we write to you today. We are confident that influential voices in KAUST will be heard arguing for the freedom to dissent, without which no institution of higher learning can be viable. The time is ripe for new thinking after millions in Paris, supported by the government of Saudi Arabia, demonstrated on behalf of minority views. We are aware that change comes by degrees, but we write at this time since it seems, a mere five years into KAUST’s history, to be a crucial time for KAUST. The undersigned friends of KAUST will be there to support you in asserting the values of freedom that we are all agreed are essential to the future of a University in this twenty first century, and that will determine the success of the extraordinary venture which you lead. […] “

 

(emphasis mine, from the UK Independent, Raif Badawi: Nobel laureates’ letter to Saudi academics , 19 January 2015)

Also see Raif Badawi Exclusive: Nobel Laureates urge Saudi academics to condemn flogging of writer jailed for daring to criticise clerics.

 

KAUST’s responses (including Staying Away From Politics, and Head of KAUST rejects calls to condemn restrictions on freedom of speech in Saudi, as well as Saudi university backs slow road to modernization) indicate that they are not prepared to publicly advocate for basic human rights in their host country. Instead, they appear to believe that dripfeeding a few hundred academically-closeted Saudi graduates, exposed to the “open” KAUST environment, back into society, will somehow address the violent suppression of ideas and discussion by the Saudi government.

This approach, unfortunately, is indistinguishable from not caring about ideals that they are still trying to claim credit for.

Your true values and priorities are revealed through your decision-making and actions. Given my experience of the academic environment at KAUST, what we found out about the workers on campus, and KAUST’s lack of a clear public commitment to a human rights culture, I think it’s becoming obvious what these values and priorities are, and what they are not.

 

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