Viewpoint: The post-Baker years: A time for optimism

August 5, 2010 

After 31 years, it is the beginning of a new era, and as a Cal Poly junior, I am optimistic about the university’s future. With President Warren Baker leaving his post at Cal Poly, I am hopeful that our next leader will restore genuine responsibility and sustainability to our campus.

Don’t get me wrong — over the last 31 years, Cal Poly has made a name for itself as a polytechnic university. But amid this progress, the university has found itself drifting away from the very principles that once defined this unique campus.

I am optimistic that Baker’s successor will finally bring the university back on track if he or she makes improvements in these critical areas:

Free speech: Aside from maybe “College Republicans,” there is one phrase that makes the Cal Poly administration cringe the most: “free speech.” Back in 2002, Cal Poly suffered national embarrassment for its blatant First Amendment suppression in the Steve Hinkle case.

Although the administration would prefer to erase this incident from its memory, Cal Poly lost $40,000 in attorney fees after trying to punish a student for exercising his right to free speech.

Eight years later, Cal Poly still remains a yellow-light campus in matters of free speech (as rated by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), as current regulations still produce chilling effects for students trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.

I’m optimistic that our next president will possess a greater respect for the free speech of students on campus.

Administration/faculty relations: Perhaps our next president will also work to reconcile the sour relations between the administration and faculty. While the number of vice presidents at Cal Poly seems to multiply year after year, our faculty subsequently diminishes in numbers.

This could very well be a result of the president’s $394,000 salary, which he elected to increase in 2007, along with the salaries of other administrators. As would be expected from this absurd imbalance, the relationship between the Cal Poly administration and faculty is tense at best and demands compromise, or the quality of education will continue to suffer.

I’m optimistic that our next president will truly recognize the importance of faculty, rather than pouring more money into the pockets of administrators.

Visibility: I hope that our next president becomes more visible on campus and shows some dedication to student affairs. Cal Poly does not need another phantom president. Few sightings of our previous president have been reported, and I’m almost certain that the job description for this position includes more than simply raising money and presiding over graduation ceremonies. I’m looking forward to a more active president on campus.

Diversity-based education: Lastly, Cal Poly has been all too eager to follow suit when it comes to diversity-based education. In its desperation to become recognized as a so-called progressive institution, it has drifted away from the original outcomes of the Cal Poly curriculum.

Cal Poly’s new “inclusive excellence” movement calls for a greater diversity of perspective in curriculum. Although this may sound good on paper, the implications of this need are far from progressive. The basis for this program, as defined by the American Association of Universities and Colleges, is to address the “collective failure to educate students of color and those from lower socioeconomic groups.”

Maybe it’s just me, but this sounds remarkably like affirmative action, which supposedly puttered out years ago. Why is Cal Poly attempting to revert back to such antiquated policies when it should be seeking the best and the brightest?

I’m optimistic that our next president will preserve the merit-based selection process of incoming Cal Poly students and maintain a curriculum that actually focuses on the skills demanded by our competitive workforce. I’m looking forward to witnessing Cal Poly’s future academic greatness without the threat of these unnecessary distractions.

Record numbers of students apply year after year under the impression that Cal Poly is beyond comparison. If the next president can make some improvement to these areas, Cal Poly may one day live up to all the hype.

Cal Poly student Brendan Pringle writes a column, “The Conservative Call,” for the Mustang Daily.

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