Local leaders laud Baker's effectiveness as president

Some local leaders hailed outgoing Cal Poly President Warren Baker as an innovative, strong leader, saying he worked well locally as well as on state and national levels.

And Cal Poly’s faculty union leader, Rich Saenz, noted Baker’s effectiveness in being able to collaborate with different groups of people.

But Saenz also said he disagreed with Baker’s move to change Cal Poly’s sports programs from Division II to Division I in the mid-1990s. He also criticized the pace of raises given to CSU presidents — including Baker — compared with faculty increases.

Baker, 71, announced his plan to retire Monday, and the search for his replacement is expected to be completed by mid-2010.

Dave Garth, the president and chief executive officer of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, said he has known Baker since the university president arrived at Cal Poly in 1979.

Garth said that through Baker’s efforts, Cal Poly has drawn attention to the business community in San Luis Obispo and helped create a cultural, economic and social identity for the city.

“When he came, Warren was 41 years old, and accomplished, but shy,” Garth said. “He developed into a strong leader, and I think that has worked wonders at Cal Poly — including on the national stage.”

Garth said he hopes local leaders will have a say in the search for the next Cal Poly president, which will be conducted by Cal State University’s Board of Trustees.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Dave Romero praised Baker for helping build an effective working relationship on civic issues such as fire services, the bus program and the Performing Arts Center.

“He’s a very careful, thoughtful individual,” Romero said. “We’ve had exceptional relationships with Cal Poly.”

But Saenz, the faculty union leader, said Baker’s decision to move the university’s athletics program from Division II to Division I diverted focus and money that should be on academics.

Saenz also criticized the pace of Baker’s pay raises — which were given over the years to Baker along with other CSU presidents; the union leader said they exceeded the pace of faculty increases.

Saenz most recently criticized a pay increase approved by CSU trustees in 2007 that increased Baker’s pay by 10 percent compared with a 5 percent increase for faculty that year.

Dan Howard-Greene, Baker’s chief of staff, responded to Saenz’s comments by saying the presidents’ compensation is in “the purview of the trustees” and the move from Division II to Division I was supported with a student vote.

Saenz, despite the criticisms, noted that Baker had several accomplishments during his tenure.

“I think the fact that he served as president for 30 years shows that he was good at working with people,” Saenz said.