Mar 09

Free food and an easy A in Orfalea’s Cal Poly business class

Here’s the weird thing about the account of that business class at Cal Poly taught by Kinko’s founder and mega-donor Paul Orfalea, besides the catering and the hand-picked class roster and the back-room dealing and the Geography 101 quizzes and the catering … Did I mention the catering?

Oh yeah.paul orfalea

The weird — or weirdest — thing is the response reporter Nick Wilson received from Dean Dave Christy, who, to his credit, was at least accountable in dealing with the controversy.

That being said, why did some of his answers sound the same, dubious “who cares?” kind of logic?

On the claim that students would get an A just for participating: “These are students with GPAs of 3.65 and up, or somewhere around there, and they probably would get A’s anyway.” 

So, the reasoning here I guess is that, after a student has exhibited some kind of pattern of performance, we can just pencil out the rest of their college career on that trend line? 

This is a business class, after all. Isn’t anyone familiar with the investing refrain: “Past performance does not guarantee future results”?

On the question of giving A’s to the entire class: “A lot of faculty members with students doing senior projects or independent projects give their students A’s.”

Again, what does some student getting an A on his essay about the merits of post-Greenspanian economics have to do with the overall grading for a particular class?

Yes, some students get A’s. Some get B’s. Some have a bad quarter, break up with a girlfriend and see their grades fall off a cliff.

Should they be automatically rubber-stamped as perpetual high achievers anyhow?

After word of the class got out, some in the business faculty were irked, and two lecturers actually ended up getting paid NOT to teach the class, while Orfalea worked for free.

Getting Orfalea to teach for free, now I’m all for that. But paying two others so you can essentially tap-dance around union rules seems unwise at best, especially in this day and age.

Oh well. 

Wonder what those kids had for dinner. …

Courtesy photo of Paul Orfalea

What do you think? Share your thoughts here.

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  1. Will Borem

    Paraphrasing one of the finest French economists: “Let them eat A’s!!” Ah, where oh where is a good Madame LaFarge when she is so obviously needed? Handpicked students guaranteed a free A and eats? Sounds like a course well worth sitting down to — or a group date. Kinky … or should that be Kinkos? Actually, in order to best deliver the Cal Poly “yearn by stewing,” these li’l darlins should be picked up at their respective residences by nonworking, well-paid professors in sleek-yet-comfy modes of transportation, swiftly but surely transported to their Orfalea class in the manner and luxury of which they will become accustomed as our next leaders of the business world. After class, they should be spirited home, tucked into bed and given a light kiss on the forehead and wished “sweet dreams” by Professor Orfalea.

  2. John Doe

    As a student in Paul Orfalea’s course, I can speak from experience in saying that the class was extremely valuable. It is extremely unfortunate that some professors seem to have their personal interests far ahead of providing experiences for students at the Orfalea College of Business. No other instructor would have been able to provide the students enrolled in the class with as many valuable real-life lessons and guest speakers as Orfalea did. Furthermore, the class remained exclusive due to the nature of the course and Orfalea’s teaching style. It is unfortunate that the Dean is faced with so much controversy because he wants to provide opportunities to students who put forth effort. Professors such as Ramsey and Frayne should take a step back and look at the opportunity that Orfalea provided for the 20+ students enrolled in the class. Orfalea was completely qualified to teach the International Business course, and did a great job. STOP harming and damaging students opportunities!!!

  3. Jaleen

    Amen, Colette. I am also an international student, and although I have excellent grades I was not on the list of the “top 25″ students to get an invitation for the course, and I worked my butt off to receive an A in the other section of the same class. It is incredibly ridiculous that, at a public institution, I am paying the exact amount that my peers are but do not have the same opportunity to receive the same education. While the lectures of this class were most likely very valuable, it should have been offered as a series of guest lecturers that was open to ALL international students. I am disgusted. Thank goodness for professors like Colette who really do stand up for students and absolutely do NOT have just their interests in mind.

  4. Fernando Villanueva

    The fact that the College of Business as a whole is being judge by this is ludicrous. Whoever has the audacity to give their opinion without actually being part of a class taught at the College of Business does not deserve the right to give their opinion. Throughout my whole educational experience I have never met professors who were as dedicated to their students as the faculty of the International Business Department. Have you ever met a professor who is willing to take your call at 1 am because you are trying to get your project done? Only in the College of Business will this happen. Yes I am not an engineering student or an architecture student, but that does not mean I didn’t work as hard for my degree. I challenge anyone who thinks differently than me to take Dr. Frayne’s, Dr. Geringer’s, Dr. Chandler’s or any other International Business professor’s class and prove me wrong. I am tired of people telling me that I had it easy. If it was not for the International Business Department how else would I have survived living and working in Europe? These professors not only teach you the theoretical aspects of business, they also teach you the practical. If it were not for them, I would not be where I am now. For that I will be eternally grateful. Thanks to Dr. Frayne, Dr. Geringer, and Dr. Chandler I am able to live the life most people envy, and believe me, they made me work hard for this.

  5. John Doe

    Colette and Jaleen,

    Unfortunately, not everything in life is fair as you see it. The best students, employees, and citizens in society are often times rewarded for the contributions and extra effort. Colette, you mention the unfairness of the grading. The grading across the college and throughout the entire university is skewed and you have no right to claim unfairness to this policy. In the course, I mastered international business knowledge and other educational material that NO other international business professor at the school could have provided me. Dean Christy is doing his best to provide opportunities to students in order to provide them with the best college experience as possible and make them the most well rounded students and young professionals as possible. Please take a step back and STOP creating a roadblock for future opportunities for students like me, and more in the future.

  6. Jane DoBoy

    I am an International Business Concentration student and I am in disbelief that John Doe and others will get credit for a core class and one that they did not take. I would hope that perhaps the University, after its investigation at the Academic Senate, will actually give them credit for another course and usher them out the door, holding Dean Christy’s hand. If you had a clue as to the integrity of our Professors and our program you would not dare ever talk to Dr. Frayne or others the way that you have. You have learned nothing but to push your weight around, Mr. Greenlighter. FYI – no one is above the law. And, lastly, racism and prejudice are ways to expunge others in developing countries, tell us Mr. Doe, is that under your “life is not fair” but someone has to benefit clause? Yeah, you really learned alot from your Donor.

    Viewpoint: Policies and procedures were violated
    March 11, 2010

    San Luis Obispo Tribune
    J. Michael Geringer
    Published: 3/10/2010

    Paul Orfalea has a distinguished career as an entrepreneur and he has been a very generous donor to the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly. He may indeed be qualified to teach certain topics within the College of Business curriculum. He undoubtedly has many interesting lessons that he can convey to students.

    However, the college is an accredited institution of higher education, which is a valuable and hard-earned distinction. The college of business is also part of the broader university and the California State University system. As a result, it is mandatory for the college to maintain explicit policies and procedures to ensure that certain content is delivered to the students and in an appropriate manner, where appropriate assessment of learning is conducted and grades, course credit and degrees are appropriately awarded.

    In the case of Orfalea’s class at Cal Poly in Fall 2009, a broad range of these policies and procedures were violated and there have been concerted efforts to avoid having a thorough and unbiased examination of why and how these violations occurred, including instances of bullying and intimidation directed at those who have requested such an inquiry (“Faculty complain about Orfalea course,” March 9).

    While Orfalea may not have been aware of many of these academic requirements, clearly the college’s dean and other administrators should have known and were responsible for ensuring that requirements were met. On this dimension they failed and it appears that Orfalea’s status as a major donor may have had a major role in decisions to allow these failures to occur and to escalate.

    The pages of this newspaper have previously discussed the potential negative consequences of allowing major donors (like the Harris Ranch Beef Company) to influence program design, staffing decisions, course content and delivery and other elements that represent the foundation of a university’s mission and integrity.

    It is very unusual that The Tribune has now chosen to cast a blind eye to a series of egregious violations with respect to curriculum delivered in conjunction with a major donor to the Orfalea College of Business.

    If this represents an effort by individuals to avoid responsibility for major failures in overseeing academic programs, it is reprehensible. If this represents a case of money and power influencing behavior of editors as well as academics, then that is indeed a powerful lesson for students and a sad statement about Cal Poly and its integrity as an institution of higher education.

  7. Anonymous

    As another student of Paul Orfalea’s class I am left both disheartened and shocked regarding the slander surrounding this class, especially when a majority of it has been conducted by my fellow Cal Poly student body and faculty.

    A majority of the claims, such as students were handpicked, are simply false. Not only did we have to have been part of the green light program – which is based on quantifiable SAT and ACT scores, not college grades – but we also had to maintain our high GPA throughout college. In addition, I know that the free food and a so-called “easy A” were not the factors that led to me enrolling in this class. I am fully capable of feeding myself and I earn A’s in virtually every class I take – business and G.E. classes alike – therefore my reasoning for taking this class had to do with the priceless experience of learning from an individual as amazing as Paul Orfalea. Most people seem to think that we simply showed up to class, haphazardly filled out geography quizzes, and went on our merry way. However, in depth current event readings were assigned each week where we had to think critically in order to analyze and ask questions about matters such as the war in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan, the price of gold, our current economy, our government, and other various foreign affairs. Active participation in each class was not only encouraged, but strictly mandatory. Speaking in front of peers as well as a man like Paul Orflaea gave me the confidence that I could not have gained in any other class. In addition, I read three texts throughout the span of the quarter. As with most classes offered at Cal Poly, you get back what you put in.

    True, we did not have midterms and finals where I simply regurgitated answers onto a scantron. The grading was unorthodox, however I have never been as motivated to do well and actually learn the material as I was in this class. Being surrounded by some of the most intelligent and driven students that I have ever met was more incentive to do well and learn the material than merely receiving a letter grade. I have also taken far too many classes where I easily achieve an A, while doing a fraction of the work I did in this class, and take away virtually nothing. I have learned practical, life lessons that I can actually apply directly to my job that I have upon graduation, and for that I will be eternally grateful to Mr. Orfalea.

    If anyone should be at fault here, it is Dean Christy for mislabeling the class and not properly notifying the rest of the faculty. Please do not slander Paul Orfalea or the students in the class. I have learned more from Mr. Orfalea in that one quarter than I have from most of my classes taken here at Cal Poly, and none of it could have been learned from a textbook or generic lecture on powerpoint. I’m just thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in his class, and feel sorry for students in the future who may be deprived of this valuable experience merely due to classroom politics.

  8. Jane DoBoy

    Dear Anonymous Greenlighter,

    Looks like more folks than just faculty and students don’t buy your smoke and mirrors either. I do NOT feel sorry for the students in your class. Some of us watched as you took your quizzes in the halls and went up and shook Mr. Orfalea’s hand and said “I am doing great today sir, and you?” Others had classes at the same time and had the pleasure of smelling the aroma from your catered meals. And all of us left our classrooms to only walk by yours and realize it had been empty and you had not been there the entire 4 hours. And you dined in the room across the hall. No one is faulting you or Mr. Orfalea. He had no idea that he, too, was being used by the Dean. Money talks and in this case, you listened. So did alot of other well educated individuals who are disgusted by what they “saw” and “heard”.

    Entertaining brouhaha
    Although I have no direct interest in the “Orfalea affair,” except for the $5,000 apparent bribe, I have found the brouhaha surrounding it quite entertaining. Paul Orfalea’s viewpoint (“Why I teach the way I teach,” March 14) was, to me, most enlightening. I especially applaud his interest in geography.

    That said, there is one part of geography he apparently does not quite understand. It is not the “Straits of Hormuz” or the straits of any narrow passage between land masses. It is the Strait of Hormuz.

    The only straits that I am familiar with are dire straits, and most of us wish not to be found there.

    Robert Christenson

    San Luis Obispo

  9. Jane DoBoy

    Again, Mr Anonymous:

    The real world
    I want to thank Dean Dave Christy for showing us what the real world is like. A-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is available for students, but only to students in the right group. Then there is a noncompetitive process to make it into the next, more selective, right group. The students who make it into that group then receive perks not available to others.

    The evaluation of the students’ performance was decided ahead of time and not based on their actual work or accomplishments. That is a great example of how an open, competitive marketplace produces efficient, beneficial results that improve the entire system. It is the real world where executives get large bonuses whether or not their company succeeds or fails, even when the company can’t stand on its own two feet.

    The worst part is the intellectual dishonesty of the defenders of those practices, the very nature of which runs contrary to what they argue is the greatest strength of their ideology. If the process for admission into the class and the evaluation of the students’ performance were more in accord with the principles they claim to be most beneficial, then this issue is mostly a nonstory.

    Victor Krulikowski


  10. Jane DoBoy

    And finally, Mr Anonymous

    Viewpoint: Unintended consequences
    By Jim Conway
    Comments (0) | Recommend (1)

    Paul Orfalea is a talented and generous entrepreneur and it is easy to understand why Dean Dave Christy wants to create opportunities for business students to gain from his experience.

    There are numerous ways Dean Christy could have facilitated Orfalea’s interaction with Cal Poly students without violating the students’ educational rights and faculty contractual rights.

    Unfortunately, Dean Christy’s decisions about the structure of this class produced some unintended negative consequences: First, students’ rights to a fair learning environment were compromised. Second, the academic system of faculty governance was subverted. Third, a lecturer’s contractual rights were violated, and finally, the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars were wasted.

    The California State University system and the California Faculty Association have created a structure of faculty governance in order to protect the quality of education on California State University campuses. Dean Christy’s decision to ignore faculty governance norms compromised Cal Poly’s ability to provide an equitable, high-quality educational environment.

    In Orfalea’s class, 25 students were selected for a special experience and information about this class was not available to other business students who might have wanted to apply for the opportunity.

    These 25 students were guaranteed an “A” in the class and received the same four units of credit as students in the other two sections of the class, even though Orfalea’s class did not follow the curriculum approved by the three tenured faculty who are responsible for the international business curriculum.

    The students in Orfalea’s class did not have a syllabus or a text book and were not required to complete any exams or papers. They didn’t even have to sit in a typical classroom for four hours each week because a free catered dinner was provided during one hour of every class. Certainly not all classroom situations are equal, but the disparity between the requirements and perquisites of Orfalea’s section and the other two sections is unacceptable.

    In an attempt to circumvent the California State University’s collective bargaining agreement with faculty regarding lecturer rights and a clause in the furlough agreement that limited people volunteering to teach classes to those who had taught the past year, a retired faculty member was listed as the instructor of record for the course and was paid to teach the class through our Faculty Early Retirement Program. This faculty member had not taught this course in the past, never attended the class and did not assist in course design or evaluation. A lecturer in the college who had taught the class previously therefore had a contractual right to teach the course.

    Clearly, it is in the California State University’s best interest to protect the rights of its qualified faculty and avoid a situation where deans can unilaterally replace faculty members in violation of our negotiated contract. The California Faculty Association is committed to defending these rights.

    It is my understanding that faculty members in the international business concentration attempted to discuss this situation with the appropriate administrators and committees within the College of Business and were unable to resolve any of their concerns. The issue is now being considered by the university-wide Academic Senate.

    Despite The Tribune’s original headline, the problem isn’t that “Faculty complain about Orfalea course” (March 9). The problem is Dean Christy’s actions.

    If the dean had worked within the rational and equitable system designed by the California State University and California Faculty Association, the faculty and students wouldn’t have such excellent grounds for complaint.

    Jim Conway is the chair of the Faculty Rights Committee, Cal Poly Chapter of the California Faculty Association.

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