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Cal Poly's vision statement misses the mark

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According to the Cal Poly vision statement, as developed by President Jeffrey Armstrong, Cal Poly will develop whole-systems thinkers, among other things. The currently proposed master plan makes it clear that the leadership at Cal Poly does not understand the words of its vision. I agree that it is critical for Cal Poly to enhance the ability of students to think in terms of whole systems. Given its historical approach to education, the students should be learning while doing. That should apply to the administration as well.

The CSU is a system—a whole system. As taxpayers, we would appreciate a whole-systems approach to the education of our youth. Until all campuses of the system are operating at capacity in every way, there should be no need to create more capacity at any of the campuses. I don’t believe that I have seen any compelling reason for Cal Poly to increase enrollment given the scope of the entire system.

The crop science students cited in The Tribune have it partially correct. As a leading institution producing the next whole-systems thinkers, the last thing we should be doing is destroying soil—the basis for civilization. Certainly, class 1 soils are particularly valuable from a crop production standpoint; however, all soils have some potential for food production. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Soils are so much more critical than simply providing the habitat for the microbial life that moves nutrients into plants and animals at other places in the food web.

A shovel full of healthy soil has more species of life than the entire above-ground biomass of the Amazon rain forest. This biodiversity is what provides the resilience required in all forms of life. Healthy soil has a tremendous ability to store water. As organic matter increases, water-holding capacity increases. At a time when we are concerned about water supply, it should make sense to do a better job of storage. Soil has the capacity to store carbon for long time periods. Through the liquid carbon pathway, humus can be created, which will keep carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere for a significant time. Soil provides the habitat, and basis for habitat, of life on the planet. There can be no culture, no society, no civilization without it.

If Cal Poly truly believes in whole-systems thinking, its leadership ought to be practicing what it proclaims. It ought to be looking at the complex relationships that maintain a civilization in ways that it has not previously done. This will take innovative and creative approaches. The current master plan is just one more iteration of the same kind of limited, parts-based thinking that has driven us to where we are today.

-- Rob Rutherford - San Luis Obispo

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