Fox News falsely reported that Cal Poly is plotting to cut white enrollment

Fox News issued a correction and apology Friday after falsely reporting Thursday that Cal Poly was purposefully excluding white students and using a race-based admission process.

“Campus craziness out west,” “Fox & Friends First” host Rob Schmitt says in the opening lines of Thursday’s segment addressing a report on the university’s efforts to improve diversity. “California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo is working to diversify their campus by deliberately slashing the number of white students.”

The segment featured an interview with a Cal Poly student and drew the false conclusion that Cal Poly is targeting white students. The claim was refuted by the university and led to the network retracting its report.

“We said the university is working to diversify the campus by deliberately reducing the number of white students,” Schmitt said on air Friday. “However, in a statement to us yesterday, (Cal Poly spokesman) Matt Lazier ... said ‘Cal Poly has not, does not and will not use applicants’ race as a factor in admissions.’ We apologize for our factual error.”

The full statement from Lazier reads: “As a member of the California State University system, Cal Poly primarily serves the state of California. The university therefore aims to create (in compliance with state Proposition 209) a campus community that reflects the demographics of the state it serves. That said, the university has not, does not, and will not consider race or ethnicity in the admissions process (doing so is prohibited in California by Proposition 209).”

Cal Poly student newspaper Mustang News broke the story of the apology Friday.

“The claim that the university is using race/ethnicity in its admissions processes is wholly and egregiously false,” Lazier told Mustang News.

The segment featured Schmitt interviewing Cal Poly construction management student Roberta Martin, who said Cal Poly was “creating division where there hadn’t been division previously.”

“It’s extremely unfortunate, especially because Cal Poly has stayed away from these identity-based politics in the past,” Martin said in the clip.

Fox News has since taken down the clip of Martin’s interview; however, it is still available elsewhere online.

Reached for comment on Friday, Martin wrote in an email that, “The bottom line is, Cal Poly has set a goal of reducing the number of white students on campus. The reporter made the logical assumption that admissions would be impacted, as it’s difficult to engineer our campus according to race statistics without affecting the admission process.”

Martin wrote that she is “happy to have the administration’s assurance that Cal Poly’s fair and unbiased admissions system will be unaffected by their stated diversity goals,” but that she nonetheless is “concerned that Cal Poly has decided to deal itself into the identity politics game.”

The report on a national TV news channel came at a sensitive time for Cal Poly, which has been rocked by a series of racist and offensive incidents in the past year, including multiple instances of students donning “blackface,” the return of alt-right speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, and the dissemination of white supremacist fliers and graffiti on campus.

In addition to the inaccuracy of the report, the segment also included false on-screen statements such as “CA college to cut admittance of white people” and “Cal Poly plots to reduce white enrollment,” accompanied by images that were clearly not from San Luis Obispo, including one of a graduation ceremony at Long Beach State’s distinctive Pyramid arena.

The impetus for the segment was a Cal Poly diversity report that laid out the steps the university has made to increase the number of minority students attending the school.

Cal Poly has made strides at improving the diversity of its student body in recent years, going from being 63 percent white in 2011 to less than 55 percent white in 2017, but it remains, by far, the whitest public university in California and does not match the ethnic breakdown of the state.

Fox wasn’t the only right-wing outlet to latch on to the false race-based admission story, which was generated by an article for The College Fix, a conservative “student-reported” website.

Other right-wing sites including The Daily Caller, The Daily Wire and One America News Network also published articles or videos citing the inaccurate information. None have issued corrections or apologies as of Friday afternoon.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler
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