Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor: On Cal Poly Donations

Nothing new here

‘Poly shouldn’t let Harris donations influence classes” (Jan. 17) headlines The Tribune’s editorial opinion. It is a good summary of donor censorship of academic offerings and statutory censorship of big donor information.

Harris Ranch Beef Company’s threat to withdraw a promised $500,000 donation to stifle academic offerings is a longstanding American practice. Think, say, of state receipt of federal highway funds being conditional on implementing a nonrelated federal policy.

Or think of carbon emission cap-and-trade legislation. A plan of some merit so gutted by big business forcing such huge initial free carbon allowances that the legislation will be so ineffective it has to be killed.

Should Cal Poly, a typical participant in academia’s past enthusiasm for political-correctness censorship, refuse to knuckle under to Harris Ranch to “save” a donation? Not likely.

Bob Garrett in his “Corporate beef lackey” letter to the editor (Jan. 17) clearly portrayed Cal Poly’s stance: “Last fall, Harris Ranch Beef Company forced Cal Poly to add speakers with opposing (read: Harris Ranch’s) views at a talk by author Michael Pollan by threatening to withdraw” its promised $500,000 donation. Forced. After all, half a million is not chump change.

Jim Talbot

Arroyo Grande

Hiding information

So Cal Poly is gifted by the Harris Ranch Beef Company, which then gets to weigh in on the agricultural policy content of coursework offered by the university (“Meat firm’s multiple beefs with Poly,” Jan. 10).

Agriculture, per Webster’s dictionary, is the science, art or occupation concerned with cultivating land, raising crops and feeding, breeding and raising livestock; also farming.

Apparently, Harris Ranch company chairman David Wood would have only the latter part of that definition taught in the classroom — breeding, raising and feeding livestock, which the university sells.

Some research now suggests that more than half of global warming is the direct result of the over-breeding of livestock. Then there’s taxpayer subsidies thrown to breeders by way of free water. I don’t know about you, but I have to pay for my water.

According to Wood, such information should be withheld from the soft minds of our students lest they be biased and question current practices of meat consumption and production. What kind of university is that? Sounds like Congress.

Susan Pyburn

San Luis Obispo

Just reprehensible

I am appalled at the very gentle treatment given by The Tribune to Cal Poly and its president, Warren Baker, on their handling and response to Harris Ranch Beef Company and its apparently successful efforts to control the academic and intellectual content at the university.

The first to come to my attention was the Michael Pollan speech, which, under overt financial pressure from Harris Ranch, was changed to a panel discussion to give “fair and balanced” coverage of issues challenging industrial agriculture (“Lecture plans shift in response to criticism,” Oct. 15).

It was apparently not enough that the agriculture program on the campus was an ever-present proponent of the industrial approach.

Now we again have a successful effort to stifle a faculty member in the school of agriculture who offered some information to students on sustainable agriculture (“Meat firm’s multiple beefs with Poly,” Jan. 10).

Whatever the merits of argument for and against these two approaches to farming, the willingness of the university to bow to external pressure in the content of its educational programs is absolutely reprehensible. As is the failure of The Tribune to make that clear.

Brandt Kehoe


Course control

Kudos to The Tribune for the follow-up story on Harris Ranch Beef Company’s threat to withhold a major donation to Cal Poly unless their agri-business practices receive equal exposure in any course discussing “alternative” agriculture practices (“Meat firm’s multiple beefs with Poly,” Jan. 10).

Harris Ranch executives apparently also demanded removal of the professor from a course on “Issues in Animal Agriculture,” accusing him of bias and for including as required reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Fast Food Nation,” which challenge the sustainability and health consequences of standard practices in large-scale meat production.

In truth, because the senior-level course is about issues in animal agriculture, a broad range of topics are debated to prepare students for what they will grapple with when they graduate. Authors Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser just happen to present arguable views that students should consider before completing their academic work.

Rather than try to control curricula and instructors’ assignments by threats about donations, Harris Ranch should consider ways to adapt some of the alternative farming methods to large-scale farming and become a leader in sustainable practices that will eventually feed the world without depleting its resources and poisoning the environment we all must help save.

James Hedges

Paso Robles