The Cal Poly Corporation, which has been a part of the Cal Poly community since the 1940s, is the business body behind the recognizable El Corral Bookstore and Campus Dining, but many students do not understand exactly what it is.
Civil engineering junior Ashley Beschell, who works at El Corral Bookstore, could not define what the Cal Poly Corporation was.
“I don’t even know,” Beschell said. “(It) seems very broad.”
Larry Kelley, the vice president of administration and financing for Cal Poly, however, was able to define the corporation in more specific terms, adding some of the history of the Cal Poly Corporation.
According to the Cal Poly Corporation website, it used to be called the California Polytechnic University Foundation.
The corporation is tax-exempt and a nonprofit; it was established in 1940 to help sell farm animals to support Cal Poly, Kelley said.
“Over time, it has grown, and continues to … provide support to the enterprise activities of agriculture,” Kelley said. “It also runs the bookstore and Campus Dining and sponsored programs, which would be the accounting for grants and contracts that are issued for work done by faculty and staff … for the university.”
Bonnie Murphy, the executive director of the Cal Poly Corporation, attributed the growth of the corporation from “modestly” selling farm animals to running many of the businesses to general growth.
“When the Cal Poly Corporation was founded in 1940, Cal Poly’s enrollment was less than 800 students, so the corporation has grown with the university,” Murphy said.
Murphy also said the corporation acquires grants for research done by faculty.
“Cal Poly faculty members are awarded external financial support in the form of grants, contracts and cooperative agreements from agencies in the public and private sectors,” Murphy said. “(The corporation) assists the university by entering into these agreements with project sponsors on the university’s behalf and by providing post award fiscal and administrative support for the term of the agreement.”
Since the corporation is nonprofit, it has come up with money to support all of the businesses and services, which also includes Pony Prints, Sage Catering, Campus Catering, Educational Web Services, Trademarks and Licensing, Bella Montana Homes (“a unique housing community designed exclusively for Cal Poly faculty and staff,” according to its website) and Tech Park. Kelley said the money comes from profits from the businesses, “fees for services in running the AG Enterprise operations (and) fees for services in taking care of the grants and contracts.”
“(The) corporation … must, by definition, be fully self-supporting,” Kelley said. “(This includes) taking care of the buildings that it’s in (and) the repair of those buildings. There’s no state funding, no outside support for those costs.”
As a part of being self-supporting, the CPC also makes the policies for the businesses and services it supports, Kelley said.
“(The corporation) sets its own policies, always consistent with the policies of the state university system and also subject to review and, often times, approval by the university president,” Kelley said. “For example, when we … expanded (Chick-fil-A) this summer in The Avenue, that was a decision made by the corporation to do that. The corporation makes those decisions in order to provide the best quality level of service to the students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus.”
Though the Cal Poly Corporation makes the policies for the businesses they support, Beschell did not feel as though she was working for a corporation — feeling it was “more laid back” than other corporations.
“They understand you have school, but also (remind you that) you have an obligation to your job,” Beschell said.
While also providing policy decisions and ensuring self-sustaining campus businesses, the corporation also “performs the accounting for the Alumni Association and the Performing Arts Center.” Although, it does not help to acquire private gifts or donations for Cal Poly. Instead, that is done by the Cal Poly Foundation.
“All fundraising is conducted by University Advancement and those funds are held within the Cal Poly Foundation, a separate auxiliary (or support group),” Murphy said.
Kelley said the Cal Poly Corporation also “provides for the foundation.” In addition, Kelley said with the budgetary problems and poor economy, the corporation has suffered too, though it does not receive state funding.
“The corporation is here to provide support and service to the university, and when the university has a budgetary downturn and needs to restrict enrollment because state funding isn’t here, that means the corporation has fewer customers in order to support those operations,” Kelley said. “It is affected by the downturn in the economy.”
Kelley said the problems in the economy has forced the Cal Poly Corporation to sacrifice its support to Cal Poly; rather, he said it was doing a “good” job.
“I think over time, you’d see that the Cal Poly Corporation has served Cal Poly very well,” Kelley said. “(It is) very responsive to student desire and needs, (it is responsive to supporting university events and (it has) run a very good operation.”