Police Car

An allegation of racial profiling by University Police on Thursday has sparked an investigation and spurred a series of hostile emails between President Armstrong and Cal Poly’s faculty union. 

An email to all members of the California Faculty Association (CFA) alleged a faculty member of color was placed in handcuffs, searched for weapons and released without a citation or reason earlier this quarter. The name of the faculty member was not disclosed due to privacy and retribution concerns. The email was sent on Thursday, Nov. 14, but did not specify the exact date the alleged incident occurred. 

The email said the faculty member continues to fear being randomly stopped again by campus police and said they came to the CFA because of their loss of confidence in Cal Poly administration.

“Given how little progress has been achieved to date at Cal Poly, we must start depending on ourselves as a community of faculty, staff, and students to do the real work of racial justice and social transformation that this campus so sorely needs and demand more progress from ourselves and the administration,” the CFA email read. 

Administration responds

The following day, President Jeffery Armstrong sent a campus-wide email stating an initial search through fall quarter incidents found no traffic stop or other UPD interaction matching the description. The email also detailed plans to investigate the incident.

Armstrong continued to call CFA’s accusations destructive to campus climate. 

“CFA SLO’s suggestion that the university does not care about incidents of racism on Cal Poly’s campus is inaccurate, inflammatory and destructive at a sensitive time on our campus,” President Jeffrey Armstrong wrote in the email.

The email said the university found it “frustrating” that the CFA refused to provide additional details about the incident when such a serious allegation has been raised.

Union fires back at Armstrong

The CFA responded to Armstrong Monday, Nov. 18 in a second email to all union members. The email said that instead of addressing factors that might drive a faculty member to choose not to report an incident to the university, the president chose to criticize the CFA for taking action to help the faculty member.

“We are disappointed in President Armstrong’s response to our message,” the email read. “The President appears to blame CFA SLO for raising this important issue.”

The CFA said they do not believe it is “inflammatory” or “destructive” to point out examples of structural and institutional racism at Cal Poly.

“It is, however, inflammatory and destructive for management to challenge faculty who speak out about these vital issues,” the email read. 

The CFA is the collective bargaining representative for California State University faculty, including tenure-track faculty, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches. Members of the Cal Poly administration are not part of the CFA.

History professor and CFA Chapter President Lewis Call said in an interview with Mustang News that while the union is responding to this specific incident, they want to address the larger issue of racial profiling on campus.

“This faculty member and other faculty are concerned that they might be subject to racial profiling,” Call said. “We hope to work with the University Police and with the Cal Poly administration to set some guarantees that that will not happen in the future.”

Call said the faculty member did not feel comfortable approaching the university about the traffic stop and went to the CFA instead.

Call said that the union has filed a chapter grievance on the issue, meaning that the university has violated a provision of the CFA Collective Bargaining Agreement. The agreement states that California State University policies prohibit discrimination against faculty based on race, color and more. 

A chapter grievance is filed not only on behalf of the faculty member, but it is filed on behalf of all 1,500 faculty members that the union chapter represents, according to Call. 

“Since we thought that this particular incident spoke to some broader issues that might impact other faculty beyond this one person, we thought it was appropriate to file this as a chapter grievance,” Call said.

Moving forward, Call said that the CFA will address the incident with the university. However, if the incident is not resolved at the university level, it may go to the state level. 

“If the union and the administration have very different views about what happened and about the significance of it, then it might be impossible to arrive at an agreement,” Call said. “I don’t know if that’s the case there because we have not yet had a chance to meet with management on this particular case.”

Call said he hopes to get reassurance the administration that University Police will not racially profile for any reason. 

Investigating the incident

Cal Poly administration did not learn about the incident until the union email was sent, according to University Spokesperson Matt Lazier. 

There were 335 traffic stops made by University Police between Sept. 19 and Nov. 14, according to police logs. Of those stops, 258 resulted in warnings, 72 in citations and five in arrests. The logs do not detail any weapon searches during vehicle stops. 

The university intends to hire a third-party investigator to review the allegations, according to the campus-wide email. The university is willing to work with the CFA to choose an investigator they both agree on. 

Given the serious nature of these allegations, the email said this case warrants requesting that the California Deputy Attorney General conduct a review.

“If the allegations are substantiated, those responsible will be held accountable and there will be serious consequences as warranted,” Armstrong wrote.

The faculty member involved in the alleged traffic stop has the right to pursue legal action against the university independently, according to Call. However, if the faculty member chose to sue the university, Call said that the CFA would not be involved with any legal processes.

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