The Life of a President: Ortiz talks campus changes, university plan, foreseen budget cuts

By Ashley Schofield & Daniel Ucko

While the average college student goes to bed any number of
hours after midnight and tries to sleep as late as possible, the
President of Cal Poly is in bed by 11 p.m. and up by 4 a.m. nearly
every day of the week.

At work by 8 a.m. after a morning filled with a workout,
newspaper and coffee, President Michael J. Ortiz makes his commute
from the manor house on University Drive to his office in the CLA
building in an electric golf cart, waving to familiar faces along
the way.

“It is an interesting experience living on campus,” said Ortiz.
“I think we really do have a community on campus, and people love
being here. I love being part of this community. Walking down the
sidewalk, saying hello … those kind[s] of things make a

From The Vision to foreseen budget cuts, the proposed recreation
center and overall change, Ortiz has a lot on his mind.

Ortiz, who has been a professor, dean, provost and vice
president for academic affairs at other universities, has lead Cal
Poly since 2003 and has no plans to leave any time soon.

“I really love this place, I truly do,” Ortiz said. “This place
is so special in terms of what is going on.”

Ortiz always makes room in his schedule for appearances at
school activities and campus-related events so he can stay involved
with his community.

“When I’m engaged on campus, I’m here,” said Ortiz. “I set time
up just to go out on campus. I go to faculty offices, visit with

In a recent interview with Poly Post editors, Ortiz discussed
issues that he and the university will be facing the next couple of


Multiple meetings and appointments take up the daily life of
this busy man, and recently Ortiz has been meeting with students in
focus groups organized to participate in discussion about ideas for
his new university plan: The Vision.

As Cal Poly’s popularity and credibility have been growing, the
university now faces an identity crisis, Ortiz said.

“It’s a process trying to determine exactly what campus
community and alumni think we should be,” he explained. “Who should
we be compared with? CSU Fullerton? Irvine? Virginia Tech? Who
should we look at in comparison with ourselves?”

The important points of change are hoping to be uncovered in the
coming months as Ortiz structures a new plan for the university
utilizing updated data from the Prioritization and Recovery

The Vision’s focus groups, which random students have been
e-mailed invitations to, are aimed at assisting Ortiz in finding
which direction Cal Poly should be heading inOrtiz said the
polytechnic part of the school is not even in the top six goals for
Cal Poly, but most at the university agree it is an important
factor in setting this school apart.

“I do think we need to change,” he said. “We need to figure out
what distinguishes us from other institutions [and] emphasize

Ortiz sees the success Cal Poly has grown into since his time
here and the need to capitalize on its growth through the visioning

“We need to establish what is excellence and what we need to do
as an institution,” he said. “It may not be a big jump because I
think people are comfortable where they are.”

Despite the need for change, Ortiz recognizes that it is an
evolutionary process. He stresses the need for self-evaluation in
order to help matters at hand, such as the budget. The Vision will
help identify a hierarchy for university programs, which will allow
monetary allotments to be more easily distributed to necessary
programs when resources get tight.

“When the budget is sour we will do what we can to support these
programs, and other programs may get a little less,” Ortiz


With budget constraints looming ahead, Ortiz believes having
enough available courses for students is at the forefront of other
matters. He has been working with academic leaders to open or
expand 100 additional course sections, but a less immediate
solution will be the reduction in students accepted next year.

Fewer students, however, means fewer faculty will be needed –
another reduction that will aid budget restraints.

“We’re not going to need as many faculty with fewer students.
That’s going to happen next year, I’m just saying that up front,”
said Ortiz. “That’s the way the budget is – it’s not
pleasant.”Ortiz said The Vision could play an integral role in
determining if there is even a need for Cal Poly to grow. If not,
the university may be adequate at its current size and better
equipped to keep up with the budget.

“We have to decide through this visioning process or strategic
plan whether or not we want to grow. Right now we have a master
plan that can allow us to grow to 30,000 students. We don’t want to
sacrifice the [quality] of education for size,” he said. “We need
to get our arms around the budget issue. Twenty thousand might be

Ortiz recognizes that is a discussion the university needs to
have. He wants the budget deliberations to be a transparent process
that the whole campus understands and is engaged in. The past
budget cafes were meant to clarify issues for students and allowed
them to present questions and hear answers.


Ortiz wishes for all campus constituents to be involved and
engaged in all aspects of the university. Cal Poly, commonly
thought of as a commuter campus is actually not by California State
University standards. Some attribute this opinion to the lack of
student involvement on-campus.

“What has happened at Cal Poly is the residential part has grown
faster than programmatic parts of it. We have a lot of students who
reside on campus,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz sees the reason for a smaller student body on campus,
notably on evenings and weekends, as a competition for time. With
the majority of students employed, their schedules are sometimes
too tight to be involved with what is going on.

“People have prioritized how they want to spend their time,” he

However, Ortiz sees this as a tribute to preparing students for
the real world and not a bad thing.

“The ‘learn by doing’ philosophy is what people look for at
graduation. Students are working and engaged, so when they leave
here they know what it means to work,” he said.

Ortiz believes just by asking students how they could better
utilize their campus will resolve the university’s participation
issues. He recently sent out a National Survey of Student
Engagement to find out where students spend their time in the
university and how the Cal Poly experience can be improved.

“The simplest thing to do is ask the students, ‘What would keep
you on campus?'” Ortiz said.

Students will soon get the chance to express their opinions
about one area of campus recreation through the Mar. 5 and 6
referendum for the proposed Rec Center.

“The information seen in terms of the proposal is that students
would – rather than be a member of L.A. Fitness – be willing to
work out here and be engaged on campus,” Ortiz said. “If that’s the
case, it might be a solution.”

Ortiz again expressed that he is anxious to see what students
think about the proposal, in a search for campus additions that
will benefit and satisfy Cal Poly students.


With the Vision, budget cuts and Rec Center, it all boils down
to change. The university is in a state of change and, like
anything, must be in order to keep up with current times.

“I don’t see – as an institution – when trying to produce people
for workforce, how you cannot change,” said Ortiz. “In a
university, you have to be cutting-edge. If not, people are going
to be obsolete when they come into job markets.”

Ortiz compared the university model to that of a business, which
is always evolving and has to be on board with change, namely
advancements in technology.

“If technology isn’t the beacon that is calling us to change, I
don’t know what is,” he said in regards to getting the university
up to par.

Ortiz recognizes that each department will always need new
equipment and is working to get the university to be more

Right now, an e-learning program is in the beginning stages to
move more classes toward the online realm. The Designing Online
Learning-Centered Environments project has been used as a catalyst
to get faculty, courses and the university up to speed.

“Eighteen-thousand students are enrolled in at least one
Web-based course in Fresno. We don’t even come close to that,” said

Instructional and Information Technology’s DOLCE Project uses
faculty teams to institute more online and “blended” courses.
Experimental classes have already shown that students achieve
higher grades in a hybrid class with the same professor than in the
same regularly structured course, according to I&IT’s Web

“If we don’t have the option, we’re cheating the students,”
Ortiz said.

Ortiz sees online courses along with additional Blackboard
utilization as cost-efficient ways to save time, offer more classes
and even reduce university emissions through fewer commutes to

For university-wide change to occur though, everyone must be
willing to adapt.

“If you are on the right track but not moving, the train is
going to run you over,” said Ortiz.

However, change is not something humans are always inclined

“Change is very difficult. It is just so hard to do something
different,” said Ortiz. “We are so resistant to change the way we
do things.”


A recent rumor some have mixed feelings about is a name change
for Cal Poly. Eight years ago, Cal Poly Pomona was simply Cal Poly
until Cal Poly San Luis Obispo trademarked it, Ortiz said. This led
to the addition of Pomona to mark the difference.

Outside entities sometimes don’t know the difference between the
two Cal Polys.

A name change would differentiate the two and possibly
strengthen the university’s image by disaffiliating it from

Ortiz inquired how much the campus is even really connected to
the city of Pomona.

“We don’t have to be Cal Poly Pomona. We could just be
California State Polytechnic University – CSPU. That way we are
part of the state, a state-wide institution with state-wide draw,”
he said.

Some would be concerned over the expenses entailed with a name

“My predecessor changed the logo,” Ortiz said of the switch from
the old cotton tree to the current arches with the leaf. “It’s an
expensive process, but I don’t think it would be anymore expensive
than changing the university’s symbols.”

A name change, however, is a transformation the university is
waiting to consider for now.

“I’m not saying [the] discussion doesn’t exist, but I’m holding
off [on it] for now,” Ortiz said.

Cal Poly is in the midst of many changes and Ortiz thinks the
university is a diamond in the rough waiting to be uncovered.

“I keep saying we are the best-kept secret in Southern

The Life of a President: Ortiz talks campus changes, university plan, foreseen budget cuts

Brandon Tan/Poly Post

The Life of a President: Ortiz talks campus changes, university plan, foreseen budget cuts

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