Paul Orfalea has a distinguished career as an entrepreneur and he has been a very generous donor to the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly. He may indeed be qualified to teach certain topics within the College of Business curriculum. He undoubtedly has many interesting lessons that he can convey to students.
However, the college is an accredited institution of higher education, which is a valuable and hard-earned distinction. The college of business is also part of the broader university and the California State University system. As a result, it is mandatory for the college to maintain explicit policies and procedures to ensure that certain content is delivered to the students and in an appropriate manner, where appropriate assessment of learning is conducted and grades, course credit and degrees are appropriately awarded.
In the case of Orfalea’s class at Cal Poly in Fall 2009, a broad range of these policies and procedures were violated and there have been concerted efforts to avoid having a thorough and unbiased examination of why and how these violations occurred, including instances of bullying and intimidation directed at those who have requested such an inquiry (“Faculty complain about Orfalea course,” March 9).
While Orfalea may not have been aware of many of these academic requirements, clearly the college’s dean and other administrators should have known and were responsible for ensuring that requirements were met. On this dimension they failed and it appears that Orfalea’s status as a major donor may have had a major role in decisions to allow these failures to occur and to escalate.
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The pages of this newspaper have previously discussed the potential negative consequences of allowing major donors (like the Harris Ranch Beef Company) to influence program design, staffing decisions, course content and delivery and other elements that represent the foundation of a university’s mission and integrity.
It is very unusual that The Tribune has now chosen to cast a blind eye to a series of egregious violations with respect to curriculum delivered in conjunction with a major donor to the Orfalea College of Business.
If this represents an effort by individuals to avoid responsibility for major failures in overseeing academic programs, it is reprehensible. If this represents a case of money and power influencing behavior of editors as well as academics, then that is indeed a powerful lesson for students and a sad statement about Cal Poly and its integrity as an institution of higher education. Dr. J. Michael Geringer is a professor of strategy and international business for the Orfalea College of Business.