The decision to completely phase out the home economics department met resentment from the faculty and students.
The chaos caused students to protest and march to President Warren Baker’s office several times in the spring of 1992.
One of the students who protested, Marshawn Porter, a home economics graduate, said the situation was disheartening.
“It was a shock to us, and it was kind of scary because we invested so many years and we weren’t going to be graduating with the major we intended,” Porter said.
At the time, there were students who had just started the program and others who were nearly finished, said Porter, now an Arroyo Grande High School teacher.
“Because they never came out and said what they really were going to do, we felt that they were going to end it that next year; that meant everybody who wasn’t through with the program would be allowed to go to other majors,” Porter said.
“(The administration) really thought that the students would just flee to some safe harbor,” said Barbara Weber, former home economics department head. “But the Cal Poly students, as they are now, were loyal. They had a student uprising.”
Laurence D. Houlgate, the philosophy department chair at the time, argued in a 1992 opinion piece that some would say that home economics should be abolished due the stereotypical gender roles it would perpetuate. Yet, he further noted the deeper issue that “ultimately has to do with male power and the devaluation of ‘women’s work.’”
To avoid this underlying belief on the part of some people that the program had no purpose and was not university level, the home economics major was not the only one to leave Cal Poly that year.
“So that we couldn’t claim sexual discrimination, they also decided to close engineering technology,” Weber said. However, components of that department blended into other departments of engineering. “They didn’t just have to disappear,” she said.
Yet, while Cal Poly might have abandoned its home economics major, other CSUs gained very strong programs. CSU Northridge offers family and consumer sciences in the College of Health and Human Development, which currently enrolls 3,900 students.
And then there was the option that former home economics student Maryjo Cali took after she graduated in 1983.
“I went back in 2000 after the department had closed and I got my teaching credential because Sarah Lord would still teach it,” Cali said.
The last cries of the program were heard in May of 1995 in an article printed in the Mustang Daily titled “Home alone.” There were only 35 students left in the major by that year. The article mentioned the barren, lonely hallways that once bustled with chatter and laughter. It also told of students who felt forgotten.
Cal Poly students now have three options to obtain the teaching credential in home economics. Since the home economics degree with an emphasis in teaching no longer exists, students must either already have a Bachelor of Science in home economics from Cal Poly, a degree in a related field, or take home economics classes at a community college and major in agricultural science prior to entering the credential program.