Cal Poly needs to stop taking ‘blood money’ from weapons companies, protesters say

A group of about 40 protesters gathered outside a Cal Poly job fair on campus Thursday, calling for the university to refuse “blood money” they say comes from weapons contractors tied to the school.

Echoing their position from similar protests in the fall and spring that Cal Poly should disassociate with companies such as Raytheon, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, protesters repeated their push to “divest from war” and put “peace over profits.”

They contend a public university should avoid benefiting financially from companies that cause death, citing attacks in the Middle East that used weaponry produced by companies that help fund Cal Poly.

Cal Poly received a $10 million donation from retired Raytheon Co. Chairman Bill Swanson and his wife Cheryl for the golf team. The Swansons also donated $100,000 to the Journalism Department. Raytheon produces precision weapons such as the Tomahawk missile and Paveway bomb.

Swanson is also the chairman of the Cal Poly Foundation board, a nonprofit that benefits the university by raising private funds.

“The university should be working to find funding from public sources, and getting (Governor) Gavin Newsom to fully fund education in California, not to be taking blood money from corporations,” said Matt Klepfer, a recent Cal Poly graduate and organizer from the group SLO Peace Coalition. “I think some students are thinking twice now as well about going to work for companies like Raytheon.”

Matt Klepfer, a Cal Poly graduate, speaks at the rally outside of the Cal Poly Career Fair where more than 30 Cal Poly students protested the university’s ties to weapons contractors such as Raytheon, Boeing and Northrup Grumman, urging the university to divest. Joe Johnston

As an alternative, the university should be focusing on partnering with green companies and sustainable organizations, Klepfer said.

In response, university spokesman Matt Lazier said Cal Poly “is listening, is open to considering and discussing ideas from its campus community, and will engage with any of its students or other community members who wish to have a constructive dialogue about how the university can be improved.”

Vice President Keith Humphrey said the university respects the students’ right to protest and the university’s Code of Conduct rules appeared to have been followed by demonstrators Thursday.

“This is a great example of how Cal Poly values and facilitates free speech,” Humphrey said. “The university values the students’ right to protest under the university’s Time, Manner and Place policy and we believe, from what we’ve seen, that no violations of student conduct have occurred.”

In separate protests over Raytheon’s role on campus during job fairs, on April 19 and Oct. 4, the university’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities sent letters to student protesters referencing a possible violation of university policy, but none of the demonstrators were cited.

Students line up to enter the Cal Poly Career Fair as more than 30 Cal Poly students protested the university’s ties to weapons contractors such as Raytheon, Boeing and Northrup Grumman, urging the university to “divest from war” and put “peace over profits.” Joe Johnston

Despite issuing no sanctions, administrators said the protestors could have been in violation of Code of Conduct rules for disrupting the job fair.

But one of the group’s leaders, Kelsey Zazanis, accused the university of trying to “intimidate” them from protesting, adding she wasn’t sure if her status as a student could be affected.

“This investigation sent a bone-chilling message to peaceful student protests across our campus and country: your actions are not welcome,” Zananis wrote in a report she shared with The Tribune.

Humphrey said Cal Poly’s approach was to educate and help guide students, rather than use a punitive approach.

In relation to the presence of defense contractors at university job fairs, Humphrey said Cal Poly’s goal is to offer students the choice and opportunity to have successful careers in a wide range of fields.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.