Mustang News File Photo
Cal Poly administration has cracked down on partying and alcohol. | Graphic by Paige Cross/Mustang News

Benjy Egel

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In civil engineering junior Connor Paquin’s three years at Cal Poly, the school has welcomed a new president, a new mascot and newly prominent athletic programs.

Now, Paquin says the school has a new attitude on the administration’s role in students’ lives, too.

Cal Poly’s administration has been more visibly involved in student life this year. Many of the restrictions are related to alcohol consumption or partying, but University Housing and Campus Dining issues have come into play as well.

“I definitely have seen (a trend of involvement in student life), but only this year,” Paquin said, who served two terms on the Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Board of Directors and finished second in the ASI presidential race this spring. “My first two years, everything seemed normal. But this year, it seems like a lot has been happening.”

From increasing the time frame of doubled fines for party-related offenses at the beginning of the year to expanding fraternity regulations to asking downtown bar owners not to serve alcohol the morning of commencement, Cal Poly administrators have been cracking down on college students’ drinking habits.

Much of the action has come from Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey and Dean of Students Jean DeCosta. DeCosta’s position covers case-by-case issues of student life, while Humphrey deals more with big-picture issues involving students, such as working with ASI President and agricultural business senior Jason Colombini to end deferred fraternity recruitment.

When asked in February, Humphrey said the university was no more involved in student life than in years past, but the actions taken are now more visible. He repeated those sentiments in an interview via email last week.

“My main concern is that we are always giving students the tools to make the decisions that promote their health, well-being and academic success, and that students are making decisions within that framework,” Humphrey wrote in an email to Mustang News.

One person to speak out against a new university attempt to regulate off-campus behavior was San Luis Obispo City Council member Dan Carpenter. He challenged Marx and Humphrey’s letter to downtown bar owners, claiming legally operating business should make decisions about their operating hours without influence from government entities.

The San Luis Obispo Downtown Association’s food, beverages and services committee denied Marx and Humphrey’s request, but Marx called the letter a success because it brought attention to alcohol safety.

Humphrey, Marx and committee chair Kimberly Walker agreed to implement an educational campaign instead of closing bars on the morning of commencement.

Carpenter, who has lived in San Luis Obispo his whole life, is a 1976 Cal Poly graduate and retired in 2002 from his job managing part of El Corral Bookstore for the Cal Poly Corporation. He called the campaign lip service intended to sound good, but really filled with fluff.

“An adult is an adult,” Carpenter said. “When they’re 21, they know what they need to do with drinking and not drinking. Bar owners know exactly what they should and shouldn’t do regarding serving alcohol to people who have overindulged. I think it’s nonsense. I think it’s a public relations issue that makes it look good … I think it’s just a feel-good thing; I don’t believe it has any effect.”

In the eight commencement ceremonies Carpenter has attended, he couldn’t recall alcohol or public drunkenness being an issue at any point.

Students should be punished by police officers on duty if they are visibly intoxicated at commencement, but they should have the freedom to make those mistakes, Carpenter said.

“You have a bunch of exuberant graduates, and I was one, too … Exuberance is something that needs to tolerated,” Carpenter said. “It’s a huge accomplishment to graduate from Cal Poly and the (California State University) system, and I think we have to be a little more tolerant of that excitement.”

Most top administrators are new since Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong took over in February 2011, including Humphrey, who came from the University of Arizona in November 2012.

Administrators hailing from out-of-state schools often have different backgrounds, Paquin said. Some of the new administration came from schools with greek life registration policies, which Paquin said might have contributed to the school’s push towards tighter regulation.

“A lot of other universities have a lot of rules and regulations or they do things differently, and that works for them,” Paquin said. “Sometimes what works at another university might not work at Cal Poly.”

Still, Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo have a history of regulating off-campus behavior. After an over-the-top Mardi Gras celebration resulted in riots in 2004, heavy police presence gradually turned the holiday into just another Tuesday over the next several years.

The annual Cesar Chavez Day celebration at Shell Beach has fizzled over the last two years as well because of academic scheduling, police presence and overcast weather.

Instead, house parties during Cesar Chavez Day and St. Patrick’s Day have evolved to be the new social hot spots. A “St. Fratty’s Day” party on Hathway Street drew hundreds — if not thousands — of students by 8 a.m., which Paquin said was a testimonial to students’ true nature.

“We have a culture here at Cal Poly and we pride ourselves on that,” he said. “When there are changes to traditions within that culture, we don’t like that.”

The administration is responding to complaints from community members and City Council members, leaving San Luis Obispo in a classic town-vs.-gown conflict. Humphrey said he shares the local officials’ concerns, since students have disturbed permanent residents’ quality of life in the past.

Administrators such as Humphrey have acknowledged some students will party, and have shifted their focus to making sure they do so in the right way. The right kind of partying doesn’t impact others or cause a person to put him- or herself in harm’s way, Humphrey said.

“I think safe and responsible partying includes monitoring one’s consumption of alcohol to avoid overconsumption, for personal safety,” he wrote in an email to Mustang News. “I think it also means paying attention to the behavior of others to ensure that they are not making decisions that put themselves in danger, and stepping in to help when they are making bad decisions.”

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  1. Kudos to Dan Carpenter for telling it like it is. As for this:

    “Marx called the letter a success because it brought attention to alcohol safety.”

    Talk about declaring victory while in full retreat!

    All that letter did was expose the administration’s willingness to impose it’s will on students, businesspeople, and parents alike … and more pernicious … to do so without any dialog with those affected, or any direct experience in the activities they sought to regulate.

    Arrogance and ignorance are not hallmarks of “success” … they are harbingers of failure and resentment.

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