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International plan of mystery 

Cal Poly mulls a decision to shut down the international business concentration

Perhaps the most controversial thing about Cal Poly’s international business concentration is that it’s not that controversial. It isn’t the most popular choice among the school’s business majors, nor is it the least. It’s neither costly nor problematic nor a blight on an otherwise pristine college of business.

click to enlarge SOMETHING’S MISSING :  An ongoing vote within the Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business Professor of Management & Industrial Technology could lead to the elimination of the international business concentration. - PHOTO ILLUSRATION BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO ILLUSRATION BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • SOMETHING’S MISSING : An ongoing vote within the Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business Professor of Management & Industrial Technology could lead to the elimination of the international business concentration.

In fact, the international business program is just peachy.

Yet after offering the concentration—in various forms—as an option to students for more than 30 years, faculty from the Orfalea College of Business are set to vote whether to eliminate the program entirely.

All in all, some people think it’s just weird.

Closing the concentration wouldn’t serve to cut costs, its resources aren’t vanishing, and students—past and present—are happy with the curriculum.

As one faculty member told New Times, “It’s a very successful, popular program … it’s popular and it’s growing.”

A concentration is an opportunity for Cal Poly students to pick a specialty within their given major. According to school officials, the international business concentration is the fourth most popular out of 10 concentrations business majors can choose from. Approximately 130 students choose the concentration, and those who do enjoy a 97 percent graduation rate. Graduates have been known to get good jobs—and get them quickly, with many students landing positions with large international and global companies, and others jumping into international internships.

As news spread that the concentration might be eliminated early this summer, students posted to the Cal Poly International Business Club’s Facebook page, seeking to save the program.

“What kind of precedent is Cal Poly setting if they take away the International Concentration?” one graduate wrote. “They will be setting a precedent for close-minded education, small world thinking, and egocentric behavior.”

For people involved in the concentration, the concern isn’t so much that it could be eliminated, as why anyone would want to.

“The best thing you can continue to ask is why,” a faculty member told New Times. “And the why has nothing to do with the concentration.”

Over the summer, faculty members took their first vote on whether to eliminate the concentration. According to the college’s dean, Dave Christy, out of 50 faculty who voted, 25 wanted to discontinue the concentration, six wanted to keep it, and 19 wanted more discussion.

Faculty members were scheduled to hold a meeting on Sept. 15 to talk about the pros and cons and have a Q&A session about the concentration. They will then hold another vote, a process that will last about a week, and hope to reach a consensus. Given the previous vote—unless some people are swayed to keep the concentration rather than eliminate it, or the 19 undecided choose to keep it—Cal Poly will no longer have an international business concentration.

Christy said the concentration, if eliminated, would continue to be available for students already within the program. No courses or faculty would be eliminated, he said. Really, the only thing that would change is a bullet point on business school diplomas.

At the time of the first vote, Christy said “there is an open agenda on this,” noting that eliminating the concentration had been a faculty-wide discussion for a while. More so, he said, programs are reviewed every year to test whether they’re still relevant or productive for students.

Christy emphasized that he didn’t believe the issue was that noteworthy or controversial or worth media attention.

But still, there’s no why.

At least one student in the program believes it was personal—that disagreements between professors, and between some faculty and the dean had led to the program’s potential downfall.

“It’s not about the program, it’s not about quality,” a faculty member said. “It’s about politics and philosophical differences.”

After news broke that the concentration was in danger, Cal Poly alums and business professionals began a letter-writing campaign to Christy. According to a faculty member who spoke with New Times, roughly 15 CEOs and various business people wrote the school in an attempt to save the program.

One graduate, Mark Haupt, who left Cal Poly in 2007 with an international business concentration, is now the specialty sales manager for Live Eyewear in San Luis Obispo. In his letter to Christy, Haupt said he heard the concentration was in danger because there aren’t jobs waiting for graduates, which he believes is absolutely wrong.

“The focus should not be on whether or not the concentration should exist, that is shockingly short-sighted,” he wrote. “The focus should be on how we can help develop this concentration, and the students who are passionate about it, to place them in this abundance of available roles post-graduation.”

Gregory Wiener is the CEO and founder of Quickscrews International Corp. based in Livermore, and at the time his son was president of the International Business Club.

“I feel the [international business] concentration is critical to our future understanding of world markets and how we must compete in them,” he wrote Christy. “If we fail to prepare the next generation of international manufacturers and managers it is our children and our grandchildren who will suffer the most.”

In a blanket e-mail response, Christy replied to such letters that the concentration had been under review since September 2010.

 “My role as dean is to determine if the faculty plans are sufficiently robust, and that we have sufficient resources to support the plans,” Christy said in the response. “I am also required to ensure that programs are periodically reviewed for their continued ability to prepare students to meet our learning goals and their personal and career goals.”

Still, some faculty and students feel the dean has downplayed the consequences of eliminating the concentration. One faculty member told New Times, “What’s at stake here are our students and their education.”

News Editor Colin Rigley can be reached at crigley@newtimesslo.com.

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