Bouquets and Brickbats: Rolling out welcome mat for Armstrong

We offer a congratulatory green-and-gold bouquet and a warm Mustang welcome to Cal Poly’s newly appointed president, Jeffrey Armstrong. Armstrong, 51, comes from Michigan State University, where he’s been dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. We’re impressed by Armstrong’s obvious enthusiasm for the job, his respect for Poly’s learn-by-doing philosophy and his commitment to encouraging diversity.

That said, there’s no denying that Armstrong does come with some baggage. Animal rights advocates have criticized his ties to the ag industry and his strong support of traditional factory farming practices, particularly in the poultry business.

On another front, faculty and students at Michigan State faulted his plan for major budget reductions within the ag college — including a proposal to reduce the number of departments from 13 to eight.

Here’s our take: Controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing; we want a college president who has been tested. And the fact that Armstrong has experience dealing with the hard realities of budgeting in today’s economy is a plus.

We do, however, hope that Armstrong keeps his promise to “listen and learn” before he makes key decisions.

And given his strong advocacy of traditional factory farming, it would be great to have an assurance that Cal Poly ag students will still have opportunities to learn about alternative methods of production. In other words, we don’t want another Harris Ranch-style fiasco, with big-money donors threatening to withhold contributions if instruction isn’t to their liking.

Rice participates in system he decries

Kevin P. Rice is one of three candidates applying for the SLO City Council seat vacated by Jan Marx, who resigned after she was elected mayor.

That’s a head-scratcher, given that Rice has criticized the practice of filling long-term vacancies through appointment, rather than election.

Rice is among those who faulted Marx for not resigning her council seat months before the election, so the vacancy could have been placed on the November ballot. Allowing the council to fill the vacancy by appointment now amounts to “voter disenfranchisement,” they say.

Yet if Rice truly believes that voters should have the last word, wouldn’t it make sense for him to back applicant Dan Carpenter? Carpenter, after all, came within 130 votes of winning the election.

Instead, Rice is seeking to benefit from the very process he condemns. For that, we elect to give him a practice-what-you-preach brickbat.

Right time for Nipomo road project

We’re delivering a brake-free bouquet to SLO County officials, for moving forward this week with the long-awaited Willow Road project in South County. The Board of Supervisors awarded a $20 million contract for the project, which will add a second freeway interchange in Nipomo. Bids for the work came in much lower than expected on account of the rotten economy — now how’s that for a silver lining?

The project should be completed by December 2012, and that’s great news for residents of Nipomo. Traffic has been a huge headache in the fast-growing community, and the Willow Road extension should significantly reduce congestion.