For the past 32 years, Ken Barclay has focused on what goes on outside of the classroom at Cal Poly to help create a safe, enjoyable and vibrant campus community.
Barclay, 66, will be honored as the grand marshal of Saturday morning’s Poly Royal Parade, celebrating his retirement in June as the director of the university’s Student Life and Leadership program.
He has held his position since 1979 after coming from the State University of New York College at Cortland, where he had a similar job coordinating student activities and managing the university union center.
Stephan Lamb, the department’s associate director at Cal Poly, will succeed Barclay on a two-year interim basis.
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In his three-decade tenure, Barclay has overseen some of Cal Poly’s biggest extracurricular projects and programs — such as the recreation center expansion project; the Pride Center, the Gender Equity Center and Multicultural Center; and Week of Welcome and commencement events.
Cal Poly has more than 300 student organizations, many of which are directed by the Student Life and Leadership department.
Barclay, who supervises a full-time staff of 13 along with dozens of student volunteers, places “a high level of trust” in those he supervises, Lamb said.
“He allows them to function with autonomy while unequivocally supporting program creativity,” said Lamb, who worked closely with student Carson Starkey’s family to implement new strategies for curbing alcohol poisoning and hazing. Starkey died in 2008 from alcohol-related hazing as he pledged a fraternity.
As part of his department’s mission to help young people feel engaged, Barclay also encourages students to join activities that Student Life and Leadership offers such as club sports, community service programs and cultural organizations.
“Our programs reach out to nearly every student on campus in some way,” Barclay said. “For many students, these groups become their support system that helps them to succeed in the classroom.”
While backing positive outlets for students, Barclay also has been faced with extreme challenges such as how to curb binge drinking, which has led to hospitalizations of students over the years.
Under Barclay’s watch, university officials have increased their focus on alcohol and hazing issues (including simulations of binge drinking gone wrong) at orientation, posted disciplinary histories of fraternities online and collaborated closely with Greek organization leaders on campus to eliminate hazing traditions.
Barclay also participated in the response to out-of-control partying during Poly Royal, Cal Poly’s open house weekend, in past years.
In 1990, a crowd of hundreds — including numerous out-of-town visitors — turned violent during Poly Royal, clashing with police and chucking rocks and beer bottles while overturning cars and vandalizing stores.
Barclay coordinated with other Cal Poly officials to eliminate two vacation days during the open house weekend to keep students focused on academics. The strategy has worked to maintain safety at Poly Royal.
Amber Zimmermann, a 21-year-old senior microbiology major, has participated in club sports and is a sorority member. She also has worked as a desk clerk for Student Life and Leadership, and she said alumni frequently return to campus to meet with Barclay and share their positive memories of Cal Poly.
“Ken is very caring,” Zimmermann said. “He always is concerned about students. He wants to hear about what’s going on in your life and where you’re coming from and how he can help.”
Cornel Morton, Cal Poly’s vice president for student affairs, said that a key to Barclay’s success is inviting “collaboration and partnerships” and said, “He is broadly admired on campus and highly respected.”
In keeping with that sentiment, Barclay said that his memories of colleagues and students are fond.
“I’ve had the good fortune of working with a very high-quality people, and the students here have been just wonderful,” Barclay said.