Let’s see if I can connect the dots. If I have this right, there is a lecturer that was paid $5,000 of taxpayers’ money to do nothing, and at the same time, Paul Orfalea, a very successful businessman, was providing students with an opportunity to get out of their books and get an up-close look at what actually is taking place in the business world at no cost. The only problem I see here is the use of our tax dollars.
San Luis Obispo
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Many of the editorials and letters regarding Paul Orfalea’s course at Cal Poly’s College of Business have shed more heat and smoke than light. The situation calls for common-sense guidelines.
• Orfalea is a respected entrepreneur and has much to offer students in an appropriate learning environment, such as a course in entrepreneurship, not cross-cultural management.
• Volunteer teachers who are major donors should not dictate the terms of their engagement to a university.
• Credit-bearing courses must provide legitimate learning experiences and evaluation of learning. These include books, articles, projects, papers and exams. Geography quizzes, guest speakers and catered dinners are not enough.
• Alternative noncredit vehicles are available for learning opportunities that do not meet criteria for credit.
• College deans should not offer courses or change them without the explicit knowledge and involvement of faculty who are responsible for the curriculum, particularly when the course is a core requirement in a concentration.
• Students should receive grades that evaluate their learning. Straight “A’s” provide material for late-night comics, but accreditors will not be amused.
• Focus on the issues respectfully. Rhetorical flourishes about “disgruntled faculty” and “fair and honest leader” are irrelevant, muddy the waters and invite rhetorical response.
This episode has damaged the collegial fabric of the college, university and community, but it is not too late to get it right. Engaging Orfalea was a fine idea, but ineptly implemented.
At Cal Poly, we want to provide students with the perspectives of experienced practitioners. As we have learned, there are ways to do this within the curriculum and some approaches that just don’t work.
William R. Pendergast
Professor of International Business and former dean, Orfalea College of Business