Cal Poly drops investigation into students' anti-war protest

Cal Poly students protested defense contractor Raytheon during an April 19, 2018, career fair.
Cal Poly students protested defense contractor Raytheon during an April 19, 2018, career fair.

Nearly two months after several Cal Poly students were notified that they were under investigation for protesting a defense contractor at a career fair, the university announced that the matter is now closed.

"After receiving a complaint that student protesters’ activity had disrupted a career fair, the university’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities conducted a requisite review of the matter and determined in early June that a full investigation was not warranted after finding insufficient evidence that violations of student conduct had occurred," spokesman Matt Lazier wrote in an email statement.

Mick Bruckner and Kelsey Zazanis were two of the students to learn they were facing potential disciplinary action after their group, SLO Peace Coalition, led a roughly 18-minute protest at the career fair booth of defense contractor Raytheon, the manufacturer of Tomahawk missiles.

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"Our peaceful demonstration at the April Career Fair sought to educate the community on Raytheon's participation in the illegal bombing of Syria that happened the same week," according to a post on SLO Peace Coalition's Facebook page.

The protest, which was recorded on Facebook Live, involved the students sitting in front of Raytheon's booth and singing a parody of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" criticizing Cal Poly's relationship with Raytheon.

Retired Raytheon CEO William H. Swanson is the chairman of the Cal Poly Foundation and donated $10 million to the university's golf program.

About two weeks later, Bruckner said he received a notice that he was under investigation for violating the university's Time, Place and Manner restrictions on on-campus protest. Soon, other students received the same notice.

Then a petition launched, calling on Cal Poly to drop the investigation. The petition had more than 3,400 signatures by Friday afternoon. Lazier declined to comment on whether the petition played a role in the university's decision.

After receiving notice that the case was being dismissed, the SLO Peace Coalition released a statement criticizing the university's handling of the matter, demanding an immediate apology.

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"This intrusive investigation uprooted the academic lives of innocent students only for it to be casually dropped. In light of unwarranted academic damage and emotional distress, SLO Peace Coalition requests that Cal Poly’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and President Jeffrey Armstrong arrange appropriate academic accommodations and compensation," according to the statement.

Lazier defended Cal Poly's approach, writing that, "the university followed standard policy and procedure — which exist to help ensure that the rights of all campus community members are upheld."

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler