Cal Poly faculty unrest leads to vote of no confidence in Ag dean

June 11, 2015


Faculty discontent boiled over in the College of Agriculture with a majority of faculty giving Agriculture Dean Andrew Thulin a vote of no-confidence. It is the latest development in a spring of faculty and staff resentment over perceptions of unequal pay and administrative attitudes.

At issue in the College of Agriculture, are Thulin’s alleged violations of shared governance procedures, failure to involve department heads in the decision making and complaints of micro management, according to the vote of no-confidence.

The discontent with Thulin began during the search that led to his being hired.

Agriculture faculty members complained that President Jeffrey Armstrong and his administration ignored them in the selection process. Professor Wyatt Brown said that the administration is required to practice shared governance in which the faculty should have served as an advisory body during the selection process.

“There was an overwhelming sentiment against the dean,” Brown said. “I have been here for 25 years and never found this type of unrest.”

The faculty is also concerned that Thulin has elected to replace the College of Agriculture’s last remaining chair with a department head. Chairs are chosen by the faculty and department heads work at the pleasure of the dean. The change means that faculty will have little or no impact over the selection and retention of their department leadership.

Faculty and students also have voiced concerns over Cal Poly’s Master Plan. The plan, being reviewed, would possibly eliminate five fields, which includes seven acres of lemons, students use as classrooms and turn the farmland and groves into a hotels and convention center. A group of students have put up a Students for Agriculture website and are asking supporters to sign a petition opposing the move.

On the website, the students voice concerns over the loss of learn-by-doing and provide a list of which sections of Cal Poly’s 248 acres of class-one, prime farmland that the administration is considering plowing under.

“The threat and uncertainty that surrounds the loss of this land from the potential construction of velie1student housing, a hotel, and other projects is deeply concerning to the future of the agricultural programs at Cal Poly,” the website says. “We support the master planning team’s decision to expand Cal Poly’s campus, however, we don’t support this expansion at the expense of the agriculture program.”

With the passage of the 78-21 no-confidence vote, the Agriculture faculty are seeking to compel Armstrong to take action regarding the faculty’s concerns with Thulin. The faculty has asked Armstrong to inform them of what actions he plans to take by June 15.

Neither Armstrong nor Cal Poly’s acting provost agreed to speak to CalCoastNews instead providing a press release from Matt Lazier, director of media relations.

While Lazier acknowledged that the administration had received the results of the no-confidence vote, he wrote that the College of Agriculture advisory board and the majority of department heads and chairs support Thulin. It was not immediately know how many of those department heads were Thulin appointees.

Lazier wrote that Thulin had been given the assignment of making some “difficult” changes in the college but that the changes were needed for long-term success.

“University leadership respects the voice of the faulty and firmly believes in transparency and shared governance,” Lazier wrote in an email. “It also believes in mutual respect and an understanding that there will not be agreement on all issues.”

A number of Cal Poly faculty and staff have complained about a lack of transparency in decision making by Armstrong’s administration. Cal Poly also has experienced vocal disagreement from faculty and staff over its salary policies with complaints about what faculty see as favoritism in granting large raises to administrators, an increase in the number of administrators while faculty numbers remain small, continued requirements for faculty members to increase their workload and no raises for faculty or staff for a number of years.

This year, faculty and staff received raises under contract negotiated by faculty and staff unions.

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So the faculty of the Cal Poly School of Agriculture is upset with Dean Thulin. Interesting.

Thulin was hired from industry and has lived, breathed and made a living in the business of agriculture. From the point of view of the agricultural industry, this is what Cal Poly needed. This department is full of faculty that has never worked in the private sector and a lot of them teach their own ideas about the ag industry, which is not even close to the real world.

30 years ago I graduated from the School of Agriculture and what I was taught was not what was being practiced in industry. The Ag industry needs people in tune with modern practices and science, not a convoluted view of what a professor thinks it should be. I have met Dean Thulin. He is an impressive man…a mover and a shaker. What we are seeing here is the faculty trying to stay in control of there own ideals and not the ideals of the real world! Basically saying “How dare industry try to tell us what to teach. We know what is best!”

Did Dr. Thulin share with you why he was fired at Cargill?

No, he did not. Please enlighten us. Maybe he should of gone straight from college to the warm and fuzzy protective cocoon of the university system? No pain, no gain!

QUOTING DON DIEGO: “Maybe he should of gone straight from college to the warm and fuzzy protective cocoon of the university system?”


Your argument fails because of the red-herring logical fallacy.

“unequal pay and administrative attitudes.”

Get used to this folks as the money belt tightens…

You know things are getting bad at Poly when the Ag faculty join the revolution. They’re the most conservative group on campus. The next step is a vote of no confidence in Armstrong himself — I wonder if Armstrong understands this?

Under President Armstrong, essentially all upper-level administrators have been promptly replaced. All the VPs, the Provost, CLA Dean, CAED Dean, CENG Dean, OCOB Dean, CAFES Dean (Thulin), Grad and Research Dean, CP Corporation Executive Director, Health Services Director, and beyond…basically the only pre-Armstrong upper-level administrator left is the COSAM Dean (who is a legend that has been there for AGES!).

It appears that we may be witnessing the first major outward discontent with Armstrong’s leadership and his assembled “team.” Not surprised that the rumblings would start in the College of Ag–among other things they don’t mess around, nor do they subscribe to the “go-along to get-along” mentality.

Let me share the latest: Does anyone know the status of Deborah Read, our highly touted vice-president for advancement, a woman pulling in a cool $150,000 per year? She’s MIA on campus. Why? Because she’s living back East with her family. If you ask the administration, they tell you that Read is recruiting students from the East Coast for Poly (wink, wink), but since when is that the task of the vice-president of advancement?

I submit that Armstrong is paying this woman off for whatever reason. If she’s unable to perform her job function, she should be fired. Wish someone would investigate this blatant waste of university funds.

Oppenheimer, the Apple Bigwig that gave Ag 20 million bucks, was not happy with Read, so insisted she be fired. She didn’t come up with his desired matching funds quickly enough, so he copped the “I’ve never failed before, are you going to be the reason I fail the first time?” attitude.

Clearly her contract has a payout clause, and that’s how they’re covering her firing – paying her to go “recruit” on the east coast, then she’ll decide to “pursue other goals” or some such nonsense.

If you look at the Sacramento Bee website, you’ll see Read actually made $300K in 2014 – second only to Armstrong himself at Cal Poly.

Hey PolyInsider; you should post more stuff like this. Think of it as helping Armstrong out with his transparency issues.

Wow, Petey sounds like he’s changed a lot since the old AGR kegger days…

100% believable. The advancement people generally have a revolving door. These people are slick, which is how they get the jobs in the first place. They come in with the most impressive sounding buzz words and catchy phrases which they use to win over the people doing the hiring. These people are completely out of touch with the needs of the people doing the teaching. They quickly move on to another venue where their same lame ideas sound fresh and moving.

Advancement? None of the money seems to trickle down to people doing the teaching, if there is any actual money to begin with. I know for a fact that calpoly is a dumping ground for hi-tech equipment and software. These donations look good on paper and on people’s resumes, but are generally out-of-date or have no useful purpose at calpoly. They do provide a great tax write-off for the companies though.

I would say as little as ten years ago, it was understood that the top-level administrator’s job function included bringing in external donations. This is not the case anymore as “advancement” has taken over that function. It leaves me wondering what exactly these high-paid bean-counters are actually doing. Armstrong was touted for bringing in $200 million at his previous gig. The first thing he does at calpoly is hit the students up for more money with his “student success fees”. Wow! I could have thought of that. Wacky.

IMO, Armstrong seems too far gone for reining in, and is at the point where he needs to be addressed by the nuclear option: drop-kicked out of his position.

As in the movie Aliens, “it’s the only way to be sure.”

It has long been rumored that Cal Poly is trying to squeeze out the Ag department for the golden child of engineering.

To bad the Santa Maria couple that just donated the 450-acre avocado and lemon ranch near Arroyo Grande valued at $11.3 million didn’t read about this sooner. Now Cal Poly can use the ranch for there Ag School and then in the future sell it. Hope they have a clause that it goes back to them if not used for Ag School purposes. There was a time when Cal Poly Ag was one of the best in the nation. I remember as a kid in SLO all the foreign students that would come to Cal Poly for the Ag School. Very sad!

It is pretty far away, down near Oceano, not exactly a location that students can get to daily.

Neither is the one in Santa Cruz or Monterey or somewhere in that area. I heard rumors that it was used for Ag and a retreat getaway for the administration biggies and this area is much bigger than the new 450 acres. Armstrong was brought here for direct purposes and now you know…

Kind of goes along with this new mission that the University of California, under the direction of Janet Napolitano is training faculty members throughout the University system of “Microaggressions”.

It is now politically incorrect to call America “land oof opportunity” or the use of other subtle actions, usually unintentional that perpetuate discriminate against disadvantaged groups. They are so stupid they have not further it out yet, that all of us, have a disadvantage of one kind or another – health, economic, educational, etc. Pretty soon we will not be able to speak to each other = freedom of speech my ass, only if you want your ass kicked!

You’re talking the Swanton-Pacific Ranch, in Aptos (Santa Cruz). It’s a redwood forest with a full-scale model railroad you can ride around on. Lovely, and very educational.

Cal Poly SLO Ag is still one of the finest in the nation…

I agree with your post, with this exception: I believe the actions of CPSLO’s leadership demonstrates it, loud and clear.

This could only be the beginning of something wonderful…..

Please take a moment and sign the students petition.

The idea of converting the lemon groves into housing and a hotel/conference center is ridiculous. Local motels and restaurants depend on business from Cal Poly; students depend on that land for learning crop science. Why does the College need its own convention center and hotels? This administration is completely going the wrong way. Will the Chamber support local business over Cal Poly? Or our city council? I doubt it. Wake up, people, this will seriously hurt students and our local economy.

I think a hotel/conference center and more housing on campus makes a GREAT deal of sense. Why should private enterprise be guarded so they can continue to cut a fat hog? If they’re so competitive, then let them compete!

While I am very sensitive to the takeover of prime ago land, Poly can mitigate this by acquiring additional adjacent lands and by building up, rather than out and infilling when possible.

How do you “mitigate” the loss of prime land? God only made a finite amount of it, very little of the earth’s firm surface, so how do you “mitigate” killing it? We can’t just dial up God and ask for more. I think you’ve fallen for the folly of silly words that mean nothing at all. Let’s help the kids preserve this prime land, and cut out the verbal nonsense.

Acquire more of it…

The land in question is already in prime condition for Ag science learning. It would take decades to get bare land into the same condition as the current teaching tool it is.

Here’s a clue: buy new land for the mega-ego-fueled convention center, hotels and other non-Ag-learning based schemes of Armstrong and his lackeys.

Poly is taxpayer owned property after all. Designate an area for a hotel/conference room and then let Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton and the rest bid on building it and operating it for XY years.

That way Poly gets the facilities it needs and private enterprise competes against private enterprise…

A Baby Boomer led faculty….no surprises here.

“Some pigs are more equal than others”

This doesn’t just hold true for our elected Leaders, but for the Administration at CalPoly as well. The “Us vs Them” paradigm has been and always will be around, its just human nature. One would think the learned faculty of CalPoly would recognize that as well.