Editorial: Poly merits praise in Orfalea case

Cal Poly administrator Dave Christy should be commended — not condemned — for recruiting Kinko’s founder, Paul Orfalea, to teach a special course in international business.

Certainly, Cal Poly could have been more transparent in announcing the course. And had it bragged a bit more about landing Orfalea to teach a course, perhaps there would have been fewer complaints that it was handled secretively.

Still, we believe that some Cal Poly faculty members overreacted when they filed a grievance because they weren’t asked to teach the business course. And it’s unfortunate that the university had to pay $5,000 to one of them to settle the issue, but better that than to be dragged into a protracted labor dispute.

We only hope the resulting controversy doesn’t discourage similar offerings in the future, because students would be the ones to lose out on rare opportunities.

We strongly support the idea of inviting successful leaders in various disciplines to teach at Cal Poly. They serve as role models who can give unique insights into various careers and provide students with practical knowledge that can supplement what they learn in other courses.

We believe that Orfalea is particularly well qualified to teach a course in international business — and it has little to do with the fact that he’s a major donor to Cal Poly, or that his name is on the school of business.

Rather, it’s the experience he’s gained as the founder of a hugely successful company that does extensive international business that qualifies him. It should also be noted that he’s taught courses at other prestigious universities, including UCSB and USC.

An added bonus: He offered to teach at Poly free of charge.

He did have some conditions: To encourage student participation, Orfalea wanted the class to be small; all students were to receive “A’s”; and he wanted them to share a meal during each of the lengthy, one-night-a-week sessions because he found it improved class dynamics.

Unorthodox? Yes. But we don’t think any of those is a deal breaker, and we support Christy, the dean of Poly’s business college, for accepting the conditions.

While we would never condone a blanket, everybody-gets-an-“A” policy for each and every class, as long as students performed well, we aren’t going to fault Orfalea because he didn’t require term papers or grade exams.

Although we wish more students could have participated, we believe Christy developed a fair way to select the students.

He started with a list of business students who had signed on as freshmen for the college’s Green Light program — open to motivated students interested in following a certain business curriculum — then went down the list and notified the 60 or 70 students with the highest grade-point averages. Of those, the 25 students who took the class were chosen on a first-come/first-served basis.

To repeat, Christy should have been more open in advertising the class and the required prerequisites. That could have spared him some grief later.

We only hope the brouhaha doesn’t discourage Paul Orfalea, and others like him, from offering their expertise to Poly students in the future.