Grace Kitayama is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News columnist. Olivia Peluso is an English senior and Mustang News opinion editor. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
In all the hours of research that must have gone into making the 2,000-page environmental impact report (EIR) document and 200-page plan, the university failed to represent students when formulating the Cal Poly 2035 Master Plan.
It has been in the works for almost five years; in that time, the most thorough discussion of its proposals was that of the Kennedy Library renovation, a controversy that took flight last winter and has since been overshadowed. While the plans for the library have been clearly posted in the facility, and a series of info sessions announced, very little has been done elsewhere to include students and community members in the discussion of the very ambitious and expensive Master Plan.
In response to an array of comments and complaints expressing a lack of community engagement, the Final EIR claims that it gave the community adequate notice. We disagree.
The EIR asserts that “on December 19, 2019, Cal Poly posted a public notice in the San Luis Obispo Tribune of the release of the Draft EIR for public review. In addition, Cal Poly provided an electronic mail notification to all contacts on the Master Plan EIR distribution list, including over 300 individual student/faculty/staff/neighbor email addresses. The list includes several campus organizations and all individuals who requested notice about the master planning process and provided contact information.” (RTC-2). We’d like to raise a few points: 1) the Tribune, while a local news source, is largely unavailable to students due to its subscription pricing; 2) the email list of 300 student, faculty, staff and “neighbor” addresses is hardly something to brag about when considering a student body of 21,000+, an academic and administrative staff of 3,000+, and a community in San Luis Obispo. An email list of 300 addresses? Come on. Where can the other 25,000+ individuals learn about the massive proposed changes to their campus life, many of which will see these changes in real-time throughout the course of their academic career?
The public comment period was open for six weeks, and the Final EIR claims that “with more than 6 weeks to review, including four weeks following the beginning of the Winter term on January 6, 2020, it is reasonable to assume that interested parties were able to find an adequate window of time to review and comment.” (RTC-2). However, the issue is not so much about the length of the comment period, but rather, the notice of it and how inaccessible this information was to most students and community members.
The Final EIR also claims that “Cal Poly publicly posted the draft Cal Poly Master Plan on the Master Plan website in June of 2019 for review by interested parties. In addition, over the summer and fall of 2019, the revised Master Plan was presented to, and input solicited from, university student, faculty, and staff representatives and stakeholders including all colleges” (RTC-2). However, as students in the College of Liberal Arts, no email, notice, or mention of the Master Plan was provided via email or otherwise. We had students from the College of Math and Sciences, as well as the College of Engineering, check their emails too; they found no notice.
How, then, was the plan presented to students, and why no widespread acknowledgment?
Those who did receive notice were presidents of ASI affiliated clubs and groups. The small sample size does not allow for feedback from an accurate representation of the student body.
For any plan involving the university, it would make sense that students are involved in the decision. It is our education that we are paying for and our futures that we are investing in. However, the 2035 Plan’s goal is to accommodate increased enrollment and will directly affect student life in every way, it is a complete oversight in not making student voice and opinion a larger part of this plan.
Cal Poly has a history of excluding students from their research. The Cal Poly Experience (CPX)–an initiative started in 2019 to investigate diversity and inclusion gaps within Cal Poly–gained criticism last year for spending money on research that only concluded what was evident for underrepresented students who already felt oppressed on campus. The argument from underrepresented students was that administration should have spent more time communicating with underrepresented students on how to improve campus culture, rather than spending the time and money on a survey that told administration essentially the same thing that underrepresented students already knew.
A similar thing happened when Cal Poly was rebranding. The university spent $340,000 on a new logo that resembles Communist Russia’s hammer and sickle, rather than recruiting its own design majors and spending the money on aspects of the campus that students have issues with: campus dining, dorms, wheelchair-accessible facilities, course materials, and mental health services, to name a few.
The students are the most important part of Cal Poly and should be prioritized as such. Not including students in the 2035 plan is not only a blatant sign of disrespect and disregard for students but also an irresponsible action on the administration’s part. Students should not want to go to a school that does not value their voices.
With the administration trying to pass the whole plan at a board of trustees meeting May 12, I encourage as many students as possible to email firstname.lastname@example.org with comments and concerns especially those regarding the inclusivity issue that has not been addressed head-on yet.