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Money talked 

Santa Maria

Sadly, the Cal Poly administration put money ahead of academic freedom (“Controversy erupts over Michael Pollan’s Poly lecture,” Oct. 8). It was a bad example to set before students.


John Harris, owner of Harris Ranch Beef, and David E. Wood, the company chairman, successfully wave their checkbooks to deny agribusiness critic Michael Pollan a late morning hour-long lecture planned by the university’s Sustainable Agriculture Resource Consortium.


Instead, the talk by the nationally known author on sustainable food was diluted by a three-person panel. His time was shared by a Colorado professor who defends agribusiness and by a speaker on organic farming.


I know Mr. Harris and Mr. Wood. They aren’t bad men. They just can’t stand opposing viewpoints, especially criticism that could touch, even indirectly, on their huge feedlot in Coalinga. So they threatened to renege on a $500,000 pledge to Cal Poly’s planned $5 million meat processing facility.


Pollan should have been given his hour. The UC Berkeley journalism professor has the stature to warrant it.


Immediately afterward, or in the near future, there could have been a panel discussion or a speaker with an opposing view. Or nothing.


Without a follow-up program, Cal Poly students still could read on their own, discuss and analyze Pollan’s views, or just think for themselves.


The university’s primary goal should be to develop critical thinkers. It should never suppress or dilute controversial viewpoints.

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