Annabelle Fagans | Mustang News

On April 3, former CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro taught his first class, Leading Social Innovations in Organizations (BUS 476).   

“I am focused on ensuring that the students enrolled in my course have a positive learning experience,” Castro wrote in an email to Mustang News. “The students will have the unique opportunity to engage with exemplary leaders from across the nation.”

Met with a group of protestors in front of his classroom, Castro was accompanied by security upon walking to his first class at 12 p.m. 

“The university anticipated that there might be limited protest activity on Tuesday,” according to university spokesperson Matt Lazier. 

Planned protests, such as the one held on Tuesday, are “strongly encouraged to notify the CPPD at least 24 hours in advance of the event,” according to Campus Administrative Policy 140.  

After a USA Today investigation that revealed Castro’s failure to respond to sexual harassment complaints, Castro resigned as the chancellor of the CSU system in February 2022. 

In his agreement with the CSU Board of Trustees, Castro negotiated retreat rights, which allowed him to return a tenured professor position in Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business in the event he stepped down as Chancellor. 

The protest in front of Castro’s first day of classes was sparked by city and regional planning freshman Davidson Drake, who through word-of-mouth gathered a group and organized the protest during the two sections of Castro’s class. 

“This isn’t always our first choice of how to go about it,” Drake said.

Drake, along with others, previously made efforts to make students aware of Castro’s arrival by posting flyers on campus. 

“We put up flyers around campus and the university has sent janitors to take them down, which made me pretty angry because they are definitely aware of how bad the situation is and they’re basically putting as much effort as possible into silencing any opposition to it to just try and let it blow over,” Drake said. 

The flyers were taken down by facilities management, per policy on posting and signage, which prohibits signs and flyers to be posted on any campus structures, including trees, without approval. 

“When a small group of protesters gathered with a bullhorn and began impeding students’ entry to a classroom, they were warned that they could not protest in a way that disrupted learning or blocked classroom access,” Lazier wrote. 

Protesting dispersed after campus police were called.

“I would say it was a little scary in their response because they videotaped us,” Drake said, referring to what he thought to be a university administrator. “They had a guy in a suit protecting Castro and he was threatening to call the cops. And then he did call the cops and they showed up, but we left before there was any confrontation.”

Protestors passed out flyers to those attending the class, requesting that students drop the class.

“And that was really our goal — get students to drop it,” Drake said. 

Castro’s BUS 476 class is not required by all business majors but is an elective course for those in the entrepreneurship and management and human resources concentrations. Flyers suggested other class alternatives.  

An electrical engineering student, who asked to be anonymous in fear of retaliation, sat in a section of Castro’s class.

“I was a bit nervous going into it,” the student said. “I don’t know if I’ve had something like that directly one-on-one confrontational before. But it went about as perfectly as I could have imagined and he was on his heels the whole time.”

During the class, the student asked about his history as a chancellor and opened a conversation, hearing Castro’s perspective on “his view of the events.” 

“I asked if he felt qualified to teach a leadership class,” the student said. “[Castro] said, ‘Oh yeah, I feel qualified because I can learn from my past mistakes.’” 

The protest held on Tuesday is not the only conversation surrounding Castro’s arrival and his first-day teaching at Cal Poly. 

“I and a few other people tried basically every other option we could to get the university to do something about this,” Drake said, referring to past events held by student organizations.

Student organizations Abolitionist Action Central Coast/SLO (AACCS) and Students for Quality Education (SQE) organized a teach-in on March 16, with the intent of opening conversation surrounding Castro’s on-campus presence. 

The planned room for the teach-in was locked, which Drake assumes was by university officials from the Office for the Dean of Students, and the event was canceled.

“Approval for events or activities encompassed by this policy may be withheld or withdrawn where determined by the University President’s designee …” the University’s Time, Place and Manner policy reads. 

In addition to student organizations, Cal Poly’s governing bodies have been contributing efforts to voice the student body’s stance on Castro, including resolutions made by ASI and Cal Poly’s Academic Senate in the fall of 2022. 

“There are just so many examples of people trying to go about this ‘the legal way’ and the way you’re supposed to go about it, and getting absolutely no response, nothing done,” Drake added.

The student who sat in on one of Castro’s lectures said that six other students that enrolled were present during the class, and spoke with them after. 

“It seemed a few of them at least would consider dropping the class to find a new elective,” the student said. “If they feel uncomfortable with him teaching that class as I do, then I hope they can drop that class and find a new one to take.”