Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Donors don’t interfere in the classroom

Given recent public allegations that Cal Poly has allowed donors to interfere with the academic freedom of our faculty and what is taught in our classrooms, I want to assure all of you who have a stake in Cal Poly’s success that nothing could be further from the truth.

Above all else, let me assure you that Cal Poly does not accept donations that would in any way compromise academic freedom. Cal Poly never has. I can’t imagine that Cal Poly ever would.

And, insinuations to the contrary, opinions expressed by donors or others have not forced changes in the curriculum, nor have they resulted in the termination or reassignment of any faculty members.

Our core mission is to prepare Cal Poly students to become resourceful professionals and innovative leaders. Over the years, we’ve proven to be very good at it, which I hope is a point of pride for everyone who cares about Cal Poly.

Unquestionably, the key to producing such talented graduates has been our learn-by-doing teaching methodology. As well, we seek to expose our students to the widest variety of viewpoints possible; we encourage them to explore and research the facts in order to arrive at their own conclusions.

To accomplish our mission, we actively seek input from key employers so that we know what will be expected of our graduates and that our curriculum will be as relevant as possible for students. Dialogue with industry employers is crucial to our learn-by-doing model and our goal of producing workforce-ready professionals. What employers share with us sometimes prompts us to explore new subjects in the classrooms, which I believe is the very definition of learning.

It’s also true that Cal Poly depends on the generosity of many of those same industry partners to create and maintain top-level facilities, particularly given the state’s steady retreat from its financial support of higher education.

But in no way do we permit donors to interfere with what is taught in the classroom, nor do we consider gifts whose conditions would interfere with academic freedom.

At the heart of academic freedom is this fact: Control of the curriculum is appropriately the faculty’s responsibility. We do not permit strings to be attached to gifts that would in any way encroach on the faculty’s authority over the curriculum or otherwise impinge on their academic freedom.

The principle of academic freedom is centuries old. It is alive and well at Cal Poly, and I am confident it will endure so long as there is a Cal Poly.

Warren J. Baker is president of Cal Poly.