Welcome to the 2020-2021 academic year! This is going to be a great year, although there are certainly challenges for us all.
This academic year has been and will continue to be shaped by three unprecedented social challenges.
The first is COVID-19. The second challenge this year is the necessity that the United States, California, our region and Cal Poly recognize violence against people of color, respond to continued racial injustice, and transform ourselves into the kind of equal, fair, and just society that we aspire to be and must become. The third challenge is something that we have experienced before: an economic recession, which has already resulted in less state support for Cal Poly.
We have plans in place and already in use for addressing all three challenges.
Our COVID-19 response is complex, and I can’t cover it all here. However, I will say this: Cal Poly isn’t like other schools. Our hands-on, Learn by Doing curriculum really requires that some classes be taught face-to-face.
The pandemic seems likely to be with us for the entire 20-21 academic year, and the CSU Chancellor’s Office has already decided that the winter 2021 term will use the same model as the fall quarter–only essential classes can be offered face-to-face, everything else is virtual, and we’ll have a limited number of students on campus.
Our ability to operate at least partially face-to-face is essential to students making progress toward their degrees. That’s why we are doing everything we can to ensure that everyone on campus is safe, and that those living off campus are making wise choices.
Cal Poly has always been about much more than responding to the challenges of today, and our plans for the future still guide us.
The second challenge this year — of rising to the call for racial justice — is one that I urge everyone to embrace. Structural racism and racial inequality are real problems in the United States, in California, in San Luis Obispo, and, yes, at Cal Poly.
Sometimes racism takes the form of overt bigotry, but often it takes the form of microaggressions and institutional bias. As a university, Cal Poly is firmly opposed to racism in all these forms, but we also know that sometimes we as individuals have biases that we aren’t even aware of that hurt others who are excluded, overlooked, or slighted.
I ask everyone to treat overcoming racism as our personal responsibility. Society only changes when individuals change, and individuals only change when they are open to other perspectives, are willing to recognize injustices, and are committed to being a part of the solution.
Some institutional initiatives under way include implementing the new, statewide ethnic studies requirement; increasing diversity, equity and inclusion training for faculty, staff, and students; implementing the action plans that came out of the CPX: Cal Poly Experience process; and the development of Latinx and Indigenous centers for our students.
Finally, a few words about the recession. Recessions are usually caused by the business cycle, and take months or years to resolve. We don’t know how the current recession will be resolved, because it was caused by a pandemic and deliberate policy choices. That policy was wise and certainly saved tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives, but it has also caused mass unemployment and a large drop in tax revenues, which is where Cal Poly derives about 40% of our operating budget.
We have some reserve funds, which we will use to defend the university against the worst effects of reductions in state funding as well as projected losses in self-support operations, but those funds are limited, and the reduced funding is likely to continue for several years at a minimum.
Know that we are doing everything we can — not filling vacant positions, streamlining administration, cutting costs, seeking additional money from other sources. We will get through this.
One last thought: recessions end; pandemics end; the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Cal Poly has always been about much more than responding to the challenges of today, and our plans for the future still guide us.
We are becoming a university that reflects the diversity of our great state. We are becoming a university where everyone can live with, work with, and learn from anyone and everyone. We are becoming a university that can do more with less, especially less support from state taxpayers.
We will address these challenges, and we will emerge a better, stronger, and more just community. We are Cal Poly!
I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and productive year!
Jeffrey D. Armstrong