Cal Poly’s now defunct home economics department once offered a bachelor of science in the major where students could concentrate in interior design or textiles and clothing merchandising.
In the spring of 1992, the School of Professional Studies closed, moving multiple departments to different colleges. Graphic communication, psychology and human development were reassigned to the School of Liberal Arts; physical education became part of Math and Science; and military science and home economics moved to the College of Agriculture.
“The original process that we were told would be put in place was modified as people began to settle down,” said Barbara Weber, former home economics department head. “Originally, the president said the department would close in one year during the spring quarter of ’92.”
Instead, since the university admitted freshmen into the home economics major, the program had to be phased out until those entering graduated with the degree.
Weber, after hearing the news, chose an early retirement option which she didn’t take until a year later. She stayed on as department head for the 1992-93 academic year while the department struggled to offer classes to remaining students.
“The problem was we had to cover classes for the students who were going on and some of the faculty moved to other universities while our department had been ready to move to the College of Agriculture,” Weber said. “The people in agriculture were good to us; the dean worked very hard to find placement for faculty.”
Connie Breazeale, a former student adviser for the home economics program, continued teaching in the food science department after the phaseout occurred. Yet, she recalled the devastation and turmoil that the shutdown provoked.
“It came as quite a shock,” Breazeale said. “It was one of the largest home economics programs in the country.”
Even Weber noted the popularity of the major when it was offered.
“In the ’70s the home economics department had an interesting race between aeronautical engineering and business, and home economics had the largest numbers,” Weber said.
However, the administration had to redistribute funds, which meant reducing enrollment. Gradually, the home economics department got smaller.
“We were never so small as to be nonproductive and we always had to turn away students,” Weber said. “Realistically, I think it was a decision made a long time ago and they just didn’t tell us.”
Mildred Roske, former faculty member to the department, said students had to hastily move through the program.
“They had to race through the home economics and interior design curriculum and they were only sophomores and juniors. They had to pretend they were ready for senior projects,” Roske said. “It was painful for them and painful for the faculty.”
Weber said she had to call a counselor to be on site at all times. “Some of them were so traumatized you couldn’t believe it,” Weber said.
Weber remembered one student in particular who was sobbing in the hallway.
“I went flying out to see what was going on; she was terribly distressed and she felt like it was a punishment for her choosing the wrong major,” she said.
Check out Tuesday’s paper to find out the consequences of dissolving the home economics department.