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Cal Poly Memories - by Bud Barns

Remembering the Late 1960's

I had a conversation about the period of unrest at Cal Poly recently. I attended from '65 to '70. The '66-67 school year was perhaps what I recall as the "beginning" of activities at Cal Poly. Until then, most of the unrest was at Berkeley, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, as I recall. Probably due to the fact that San Luis Obispo was seen as such a small venue to gain media attention. Following the lottery for the draft in '66, the pace of things picked up. Mind you, we were only about 9,000 students strong.

For the most part, a conservative school as many of the students were engineering or ag, not liberal arts. When the SDS began to make some waves on campus, they were mostly ignored for the better part of year. I personally was outside the group of people who made waves...I had been drilled by my single mom to get a degree and was frankly petrified to think of how I'd go through life without one. Besides, I was enjoying the curriculum at Cal Poly as a major in what then was called Technical Arts. The following year, we became Industrial Technology.

As far as "memorable" events, there were two. The first was a "demonstration" that consisted of perhaps 30-40 students in front of the Administration Building. It was short-lived. However, when the local TV media picked up the story, they positioned three cameras from three angles. When the tape was edited and aired, the size of the demonstration grew to appear as more than 100.

The second event, the one that Jim referenced, was a demonstration by the SDS. After several failed attempts to hold an on-campus forum, the school received a bomb threat against the old Business Administration Building, which was a symbol for the campus. Ultimately, the group was given the opportunity to conduct an anti-war effort. This bothered the local campus police, naturally. In order to provide enough space for onlookers, the stage was set up on the steps of the library, where a crowd could gather on the adjacent lawn area.

Given the nature of the school and its predominantly conservative student body, there was a lot of curiosity, not support, for the SDS. I recall one of the speakers making the point that the "capitalist pigs" were abusing the rights of workers in foreign countries and that the mission of the U.S. in Southeast Asia was to prevent the spread of communism (in response to the "domino theory") promoted at that time.

The mood of the crowd grew suspicious. People began to heckle the speakers, rather than giving them support as was the case on most campuses. Suddenly, four or five aggies came on horseback with lariats and rifle holsters from the side of library, and, without much discussion, simply roped the speakers and dragged them from the stage. The entire event lasted perhaps 20 minutes. From that point forward, we never had another incident on campus during my remaining years there. Life returned to the Cal Poly way.

We were far more fortunate than Isla Vista in Santa Barbara, UCLA and other campuses

P.S. Reading through the story attached, I recall the old dorms (former barracks). They were coined "the jungle" by the student body. More relative, Cal Poly exuded a spirit to every student. It began with WOW (Week of Welcome) and concluded with Poly Royal. I am sure that much of the success of Poly graduates came from participating in those experiences as they instilled a character and value that was uniquely Cal Poly. -- Bud Barnes


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California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, Ca 93407-0009