Cal Poly President Warren Baker announces retirement

Cal Poly President Warren Baker, who over 30 years helped transform the San Luis Obispo university into one of the nation’s best polytechnic institutions, is stepping down.

Baker, 71, announced Monday that he plans to retire but will stay on until a successor assumes the presidency.

A search by the Board of Trustees of the Cal State University is expected to be completed by the middle of 2010, according to CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed.

Baker said Monday the “outstanding campus community” has been key to making the university what it is today.

Under his direction, several of Cal Poly’s programs — including engineering, architecture and agriculture — have become known as some of the nation’s best.

“His extraordinarily thoughtful, incisive and results-oriented approach to leadership has resulted in a significant legacy that will continue to benefit Cal Poly, the CSU and the nation for many years to come,” Reed said.

Cal Poly successes

For the past 17 years, U.S. News and World Report has ranked the university the best in the West among comparable institutions that focus on bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of schools, credited Baker for the consistently high ranking.

“Under President Baker’s remarkable and visionary leadership over the past 30 years, Cal Poly has made great strides toward becoming one of the best public universities in the nation,” said O’Connell, who lives in San Luis Obispo.

Baker said he was most proud of the strength of the faculty members at Cal Poly who have been integral in developing 20 new majors, 72 minors and 15 new master’s degree programs under his tenure.

Cal Poly’s president also has overseen more than $1 billion in infrastructure expansion and worked with students on approval of several fee increases that have helped with health services, athletic scholarships and the recreation center.

Baker, who became president in 1979, is one of the two current longest-serving CSU presidents and earns more than any other president in the system at $405,153 per year, including salary, housing and car allowances, according to the Sacramento Bee’s database of state employees’ salaries.

Challenges ahead

Cal Poly’s tuition now is the highest in the CSU system, totaling $6,198 per year, and student fees have been vital to the quality of the education, Baker said.

“The state funding hasn’t recognized the cost of programs, and the campus community has done a remarkable job in sustaining the excellence of Cal Poly’s education,” Baker said.

State funding will continue to be a challenge for the next Cal Poly president, and a long-term plan at the state level for education funding needs to be addressed, Baker said.

Raising money from private donors has been vital to Cal Poly’s success and will continue to be important, Baker said.

For example, the university’s Centennial Capital Campaign — begun on Cal Poly’s 100th anniversary in 2001 — brought in $264 million.

Donations have helped create ongoing faculty positions with the investments generated through the endowment, which Baker said was only a few million dollars when he arrived at Cal Poly.

Property donations have included the 3,200-acre Swanton Pacific ranch outside the town of Davenport in Santa Cruz County, a gift from Cal Poly alumnus Al Smith in 1993, and Unocal’s donation of a pier at Avila Beach.

Baker also helped establish what’s called the “President’s Cabinet,” which today has more than 800 volunteers who provide advice and support across the campus.

In retrospect

A regret of the outgoing president is that he didn’t plan more on-campus housing for students early in his tenure. Baker said that students’ ability to live on campus enhances their education. But the dorms weren’t filled with students at the time, and rents often were more affordable off campus.

Over the past few years, the university developed Poly Canyon Village, which now provides more than 2,600 beds to students.

Of criticism that has appeared in the student paper that he wasn’t visible enough on campus, the president said that he has spent much of his time in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., in recent years, undertaking lobbying and sitting on committees such as the National Science Board.

Baker said that work among CSU officials to allocate funds for public education is vital to the operation of the system.

Baker said that he’ll have more time to spend with his four children and eight grandchildren in retirement. And he plans to continue to help promote science, technology, engineering and math education and research statewide.