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Learn by paving? 

Cal Poly wasn’t always the best public university in the West. Long ago, it was just a dream of local journalist Myron Angel, who in 1894 gathered a group of SLO citizens in a hotel lobby and put forth the idea of a state school—something the town could be proud of.

Yes, things were really starting to get civilized around here. I mean the Vigilance Committee hadn’t lynched any Mexicans since, like, 1858. The county’s population was 16,000. Ah Louis’ store had been opened a decade and was a great place to buy opium. Point San Luis Lighthouse was completed and almost immediately haunted. Southern Pacific had extended the railroad to SLO, ending stage service over Cuesta Grade. The Chinese were now required to carry a Certificate of Residence or be deported.

click to enlarge 97a3f345390707df3225117e5ae6c98d.jpg

“Thanks for building the railroad, squinty! Now go back to China!”

Yep, civilized. And finally nine years later, after much planning and fundraising, Cal Poly’s campus broke ground on Jan. 31, 1903 … with the construction of the administration building, of course. Gotta house those administrators! Somebody’s gotta run this joint.

On May 9, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt praised the citizens of SLO for their support of the school, which opened its doors to the first 20 students on Oct. 1, 1903. San Luis residents were beaming with pride! Beaming, I tell you!

Back then, Cal Poly was a co-ed vocational high school, and land for student farms was immediately set aside to facilitate the school’s famed “learn by doing” model. The school’s first three departments were agriculture, mechanics, and household arts, the latter of which fell on hard times after women were barred from attending from 1930 until 1956. Ah, the good old days, am I right?

Slowly but surely, the school grew, enrollment expanded, and in 1940, the State Board of Education granted Cal Poly collegiate status. Hey! Look who’s a real college! More proud, beaming citizens! The county’s population was more than 33,000. 

In 1942, the first bachelor’s degrees were awarded. Meanwhile, 800 county residents of Japanese descent were rounded up and sent to internment camps. Beam, proud citizens. Beam!

After World War II, most of Cal Poly’s students were veterans on the G.I. Bill studying agriculture, engineering, architecture, and beer drinking. It didn’t take long for some SLO citizens to start regretting their support of the school. Town vs. gown! NIMBYism is invented. But guess what? They hadn’t seen nothin’ yet!

The university really took off under the direction of President Robert E. Kennedy (1967 to 1979) and continued its expansion under President Warren J. Baker (1979 to 2010) to become the preeminent public university we know today. Poly Royal riots, St. Fratty’s Day, sexual assaults—Cal Poly was all growed up!

And it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Recently Cal Poly’s new master plan proposals were unveiled. The master plan looks 20 years into the future to try to figure out what the university needs to continue its “mission.” 

And what is Cal Poly’s mission? Under now President Jeffery Armstrong (2011-present), its mission is to build a hotel on the university’s fertile ag land. Because every modern university needs one!

See, when life gives you lemons, pave the lemon trees over and build that hotel! If life gives you oranges, bulldoze those trees and put up more student housing or a parking lot! The best way to protect fertile class 1 soil is obviously to seal it under concrete or asphalt. Nothing can get to it then!

If this sounds like Orwellian doublespeak and anathema to a public university that has the purported goal of training students under the “learn by doing” philosophy, it is—unless the plan is to get rid of the College of Agriculture and replace it with the College of Hospitality Management.

Ag students are not amused. They’re gathering signatures on a petition to protect their land and screaming bloody murder about the various master plan proposals, nearly all of which want to take ag land near the campus core and pave over it.

The near-campus “outdoor labs” are where students learn about fruit, crop, and animal science firsthand, without having to pile into vans and drive to some remote location to do it. And non-ag students get to enjoy the odoriferous reminder that they’re attending a first-rate ag school with “outdoor labs” within sniffing distance. Bonus!

Of course, interim University Planning Officer Linda Dalton has stressed that these conceptual maps are merely “under study” suggestions. Nothing’s written in stone (and yes, pun sadly intended). Dalton and her team of hotel planners will be hunkering down this summer to finalize their proposals, but she says not to worry, because public input will be welcome before they reveal the final master plan in 2016.

And years from now when Cal Poly unveils its next master plan, Dalton or whoever’s in charge will be happy to show it to you in the atrium of Cal Poly’s new hotel! I’m sure Myron Angel and the SLO citizens gathered in that hotel lobby in 1894 would be so damn proud.


The Shredder wonders if it could be upgraded to a suite? Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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