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Warren J. Baker: 31 Years In Support of Learn By Doing

A conversation with Cal Poly President Warren J. Baker

By Matt Lazier

Warren Baker Explains

Warren J. Baker became the eighth president in Cal Poly’s history in August 1979. Three decades later, there has yet to be a ninth.

It has been three decades of remarkable growth for Cal Poly, during which time Baker has presided over the graduation of more than 100,000 students, overseen dramatic expansion and improvement of campus facilities to nurture learn-by-doing programs, and led the university as it gained a national reputation for excellence, reaping innumerable honors and recognitions, including an ongoing streak of 17 years as U.S. News & World Report’s best public master’s-level university in the west.

And Baker steered Cal Poly toward greater support from industry, alumni, and friends, leading what became a record-breaking $264 million Centennial Campaign.

What Baker says makes him most proud is that throughout his tenure, whatever the issue, he stayed focused on preserving and enriching the learn-by-doing educational model that is Cal Poly’s beating heart.

As Baker prepares to retire, Cal Poly Magazine sat with him for a discussion of his time here and what he sees as the university’s future challenges.

What first attracted you to Cal Poly in 1979?
It appeared to me that Cal Poly was a university in transition – expanding on its agricultural roots to become a true polytechnic campus, and with tremendous potential and the very realistic goal of becoming a nationally recognized polytechnic institution.

When you became the president, what were your first goals? How did you set about implementing them?
We needed more resources – more support for learn-by-doing, new programs and new buildings to support student success. But I wasn’t sure how that was going to occur.

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For the physical campus, we first looked primarily to the state. I spent a lot of time getting to know people in Sacramento and making our case with legislative leaders from places outside San Luis Obispo. Because we had so many students from other legislative districts, we were able to get those legislators to testify on behalf of Cal Poly. Success came quickly for us in the capital programs, and we’ve been able to continue that.
Later, we realized there was tremendous advantage in leveraging private funds to get state money for campus projects. We did it the other way as well, where state funds helped us leverage private money.
I knew we would succeed, but if you had told me that we would add close to $1 billion dollars in facilities over three decades, I would have said, “That’s not possible.” But when students, alumni, faculty and staff pull together, almost anything is possible.
There also was opportunity for development of academic programs. We were growing, hiring new faculty. That presented opportunities to introduce new majors that fit the polytechnic mission and ensured that students would have a broad education preparing them to compete in scientific and technical fields and also be well versed in the humanities and social sciences. We’ve added 20 new undergraduate majors, 72 minors and 15 new master’s degree programs over the years. I believe that’s helped make it possible for us to graduate so many resourceful professionals who go on to successfully enrich their professions and their communities.

Warren Baker Gestures

What do you think has been your greatest success at Cal Poly, and why?
We’ve done well at maintaining the focus on the learn-by-doing education model and garnering the support to enhance the opportunities for our students around that philosophy. I think we’re an even better institution today than we were 30 years ago, and we have stayed true to the mission established by Cal Poly’s founders in 1901.
When I first met Al Smith he told about how the learn-by-doing education he received at Cal Poly influenced his life and his career. He wanted to explore with me how he might give something back to the university to help preserve learn-by-doing. Over the next few years we put in place a program that gave students and faculty an opportunity to use his wonderful 3,200-acre ranch, Swanton Pacific, to practice what they learned in the classroom. The experiment was very successful, and today Cal Poly owns Swanton Pacific Ranch, supported by a generous multi-million dollar endowment provided by Al Smith. His dream lives on. 

In recent years, our learn-by-doing model has been enriched with greater emphasis on project-based learning. Projects that engage teams of students, faculty and advisers from outside the university add a terrific dimension to learn-by-doing. Paul Bonderson, who credits his success as an entrepreneur to the hands-on education he received at Cal Poly, saw the importance of on campus facilities to support project based learning. He created the magnificent Bonderson Projects Center on campus and gave it to the university. 
The learn-by-doing focus gave us direction in every initiative, whether it was raising money for facilities, putting together a capital campaign and a structure to raise private funds, or seeking support from the legislature for the polytechnic mission.

What didn’t you achieve during your presidency that you had hoped to?
A few weeks ago, I would have cited our inability to proceed with a new Center for Science and Mathematics.

This center is crucial for many reasons. We need to teach students on state-of-the-art equipment, the equipment that industry expects our students to be familiar with. Some of that kind of equipment just can’t be housed in facilities that were built in the 1950s. And what we teach and do in the College of Science and Mathematics goes to the heart of our polytechnic mission and affects every student.

Recently we learned that the bond sales that will provide about $100 million for construction are back on track. That money will be complemented by another $20 million in private support raised with the crucial assistance of our Foundation Board of Directors. None of this could have happened without help from many Cal Poly supporters who not only contributed money but also helped us garner political support from the governor and the legislature for the building and the bonds.

As we speak, we’re planning a ground-breaking for this spring. I would have hated to leave without securing the future of the center.

What are the biggest challenges facing Cal Poly right now?
In many ways the challenges are similar to what I faced when I became president: how to preserve and enrich the quality of our learn-by-doing and project-based education. Bluntly, how do you pay for it?

The world and the problems we face are increasingly complex, and California’s industries need resourceful professionals who can address problems in a strategic, whole-system way. That’s the kind of innovative leader we are successful at educating. But to educate people across multiple disciplines requires new ways of teaching and learning that extend our basic model of learning-by-doing. Certainly we have opportunities today to use technology to make us more efficient. However, to sustain and enhance the quality of a Cal Poly education the university will have to continue to seek more support from sources other than the state.

Bear in mind that 30 years ago, the state paid 90 percent of the cost of educating a student. Today at Cal Poly, the state provides 50 percent. Students, their parents, and private support make up the difference.

Because of our polytechnic mission, Cal Poly has an even more difficult challenge. We have the highest proportion of higher-cost programs of any CSU campus. To maintain our learn-by-doing focus, it’s a fact of life that it costs more to educate students in agriculture, architecture, engineering and science than it does in the liberal arts. Yet Cal Poly’s per-student funding is at the average of all the CSU campuses. Meanwhile, the state has steadily been reducing its support for public higher education.

We have to continue to make our case for state support. We need to continue to grow our private support. And we need to continue to nurture the relationships and partnerships we have with the students that support the Cal Poly Plan.

Going forward, the Cal Poly Plan – the willingness of students and their parents to pay for the exceptional quality that our learn-by-doing philosophy provides – will allow Cal Poly a level of independence from the natural tendency of large bureaucratic systems to normalize the way in which campuses operate. There are both advantages and disadvantages to being in a large system. Cal Poly will need to continue to navigate through these, and a strong partnership with the students, alumni and faculty is essential to success.

Today Cal Poly is one of the best values in the nation. As I see the competing demands for tax dollars in California and look to the future, it’s clear Cal Poly will need to be successful at raising private support for endowments that will match the commitments of our students.

Is Cal Poly well poised to maintain and expand external support for the university?
We are learning through a focused strategic planning process that the areas our faculty and students want to explore resonate with alumni, industry and other university supporters.

We’re fortunate to have a broad base of donors willing to assist us in looking into the future and determine what kind of world our graduates will encounter. That helps us identify improvements we should make in our programs. In turn, donors are willing to help support innovative programs.

We are also lucky to have a base of dedicated volunteers – alumni and industry partners – eager to help us take fundraising to the next level.

This base of volunteers is being led by the Cal Poly Foundation Board of Directors. The board is working closely with our Advancement staff and our college deans to put everything into place so that the next president can, if he or she chooses, launch a comprehensive fundraising campaign that I would expect to dramatically exceed the success of our last campaign.

So, yes, I’m confident Cal Poly is well positioned to expand its base of private support.

Thirty-one years is a long time on any job. What kept you motivated in this one?
It never became routine. There were always new challenges, new things to accomplish. The university has been growing, which presented exciting opportunities and created an immense appeal: The students, faculty, staff, deans and administration were all growing and learning together.

And the campus is a very cooperative place to work. From the beginning, it was easy to engage the faculty, staff and students with a focused mission and a set of goals for the institution. Clearly we have had instances of differences of opinion in 31 years. But the campus is one that really works together. People are engaged, and their views are heard.

How would you like your time at the helm of Cal Poly to be remembered?
As being open and cooperative – that I helped create a spirit of cooperation on the campus and that we were able to work together to get things done. When we wanted to achieve something, we could overcome the barriers and do it.

I also hope I’m remembered for doing what I could to help garner the resources and support necessary to help students and faculty achieve their aspirations. I think of the presidency as more of a servant and facilitator role. It’s a very simple thing we do here: We put good faculty together with good students, and good things happen. My role has been to try to support that.

5 Days, 31 Years

We asked President Baker to single out five memorable days from his 31 years as president – days that pleased him or broke his heart, that touched him personally or that significantly altered Cal Poly’s fortunes.

1. Students successfully lobby for passage of the Cal Poly Plan
The Cal Poly Plan has been the cornerstone of Cal Poly’s ability to preserve and enrich the university’s learn-by-doing model, and it came into being thanks to strong support from students.

Baker recalled how the administration, students and the faculty came together to create a strategy to cope with the state’s retreat from its commitment to funding higher education. “It was true collaboration,” Baker recalled. “The goal of the Cal Poly Plan was to to increase graduation rates, shorten the time to degree and create special funding that would be earmarked exclusively to support learn-by-doing programs. And it has been extremely successful.”

The plan, supported by a modest initial university fee, was established following consultation with students in 1996. In two subsequent elections, students turned out in large numbers to establish and then increase “college-based academic fees.”
“What I especially like about the Cal Poly plan is that it gives students a formal say in how the fees are spent, through participation in university and college Cal Poly Plan committees,” Baker said. “And we couldn’t have earned the trustees’ approval for the plan without student support.”

The plan received ringing statements of support from members of the CSU Board of Trustees when presented to them July 10, 1996. After testimony from Baker and several student government members, the trustees hailed it as a model for other CSU campuses.

“My sense that day,” Baker said, “was that we had put in place something that would guarantee the survival of Cal Poly’s learn-by-doing philosophy.”

Students understood then – and do today – the importance of maintaining Cal Poly’s culture, Baker said. He was proud that student leaders eloquently articulated to the trustees their support for and understanding of the need for the plan.

“Students got very excited,” he said. “They saw that they had a real role in the governance of the institution. They knew where every dollar they were paying through the Cal Poly Plan was going.

“The force of the students amazes me, and it’s amazing to me how that culture is seamlessly passed down from one generation to another.”

2. Cal Poly’s Centennial Celebration
More than 1,000 faculty, students, alumni and university friends filled the Performing Arts Center on Sept. 28, 2001, for Cal Poly’s Founders Convocation and Centennial Celebration – part of a yearlong commemoration of Cal Poly’s 100-year anniversary.
The convocation included 300 faculty, students, alumni, administrators and VIPs marching across campus in formal procession and full academic regalia. Campus and CSU dignitaries addressed the gathering. President Baker spoke on “A Century of Achievement – A Tradition for the Future.”

“The founders of this institution are quoted as saying they wanted Cal Poly to educate the hand as well as the head. Over the years, I added the heart. I believe Cal Poly does an extraordinary job of educating the head, the hand and the heart,” Baker said.

3. Human Powered Helicopter
On Dec. 10, 1989, a group of Aeronautical Engineering students did what no one had ever done when they successfully flew a human-powered helicopter called “Da Vinci III” for nearly 7 seconds inside Mott Gym at Cal Poly.

The 100-pound vehicle was certified by the National Aeronautic Association as hovering about 8 inches off the ground for 6.8 seconds. This first-ever certified flight of a muscle-powered helicopter garnered coverage from national media such as CNN, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

“That was a special day. It was learn-by-doing fully realized – learn by doing something no one else ever has,” said Baker, who recalled watching Da Vinci III’s historic flight. “Those students had a pioneering spirit and a curiosity essential to the education model that is Cal Poly’s heart and soul.

4. Division I Athletics
Cal Poly students voted on Nov. 22, 1991, to increase their student fees in order to maintain athletics programs at Cal Poly and move the university’s programs to NCAA Division I competition.

“I was so proud that day,” Baker said. “The students and university came together to solve a problem that could not have been solved any other way.”

It was the answer to what Baker calls a perplexing challenge: Cal Poly had been successful competing against small colleges in Division II, winning championships and producing Olympians and future professional stars such as baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. But Division II programs were drying up throughout the west. And to generate the kind of excitement needed to sustain athletics, Baker said, Cal Poly teams needed to compete against schools familiar to the student body, such as UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Long Beach and San Diego State.

“The only way to do that was to partner with the students,” Baker said, “and that partnership has been just as solid as it could be from Day One.”

In 2004, students drove another stake of support into the ground by voting to raise their fees again to support athletic scholarships.

Today, through consultative roles, students remain involved in setting the direction of the intercollegiate athletic programs.

5. Campus Master Plan
When the CSU Board of Trustees approved the latest revision of the Cal Poly campus Master Plan on May 21, 2001, it was the culmination of what Baker called an extraordinary effort by university leaders, staff and faculty to put in place an ambitious vision for the future of the university.

Without a good planning process, many of the campus’ new and exciting features wouldn’t exist.

Academic facilities were modernized and expanded including a new engineering quadrant, new facilities for architecture and environmental design, updated agricultural facilities and a visionary new center for science and mathematics a $125 million state-of-the-art facility in the heart of campus scheduled for groundbreaking during Baker’s final months as president. 

“As a further example, without the Master Plan, we wouldn’t have Poly Canyon Village,” Baker said. “That innovative housing complex enhances the students’ experience and success at Cal Poly.”

Ambassador, scholar, mother, supporter

Carly Fitzsimons Baker has worn many hats in 31 years at Cal Poly

By Matt Lazier

Carly Fitzsimons Baker is an elegant force of nature who has worked tirelessly on behalf of Cal Poly for more than three decades.

She has served as a confidante to the president, an ambassador for the university, a scholar in its classrooms and as hospitality coordinator for some of the most significant social events in Cal Poly’s history.

Baker’s tireless efforts prompted Congresswoman Lois Capps to read a letter into the congressional record in April 2001:
“Carly’s grace, good humor and attention to detail have been evident in every event for visiting dignitaries, university board members, community leaders, donors and the President’s Cabinet,” Capps wrote. “The welcoming environment she has created has nourished an expanding circle of university friendships, critical to Cal Poly’s future.”

Her renowned sense of style can be seen across the university – in the bright, modern Cal Poly entry banners, the colorful landscaping around the Performing Arts Center, the symbolically rich campus seal, and many other features that enrich campus daily life and add a touch of elegance to university ceremonial occasions.

And she raised four college graduates while managing a home that was open to visitors from around the world.

Immediate Need
Baker remembers when she and her family arrived on campus in August 1979. She was raising four children, ages 3 to 16, and she was suddenly thrust into the role of campus ambassador.

“We immediately had all the initial meet-and-greet events, as well as the regular fall events that happen when school starts up every year,” she said. “I really had to work to get things in shape, and it was a learning experience.”

Warren Baker said he had an immediate and pressing need for his wife’s support as he assumed the Cal Poly presidency.

“When we came here, we made it a priority to ensure that members of the Central Coast community felt welcome on campus,” he said. “What we wanted to do, and what Carly worked hard to do, was to find some early opportunities to connect with the community.

Professional Development, Community Outreach
As the Bakers settled in, Carly Baker decided to continue her education – earning a master’s degree in education at Cal Poly in 1985. She worked on a number of local and statewide boards and commissions relating to social issues, including the Children’s Center Task Force, Children’s Protective Services Task Force, Women’s Shelter Board of Directors, and Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention commissions.

After earning her advanced degree, she did an internship with Atascadero State Hospital, a state mental institution that houses the criminally insane about 20 miles north of the Cal Poly campus.

“I had always worked with victims of crime, through groups such as the Women’s Shelter and Children’s Protective Services,” Baker said. “I wasn’t sure whether I could work with the perpetrators, so I took this internship.”

The work was frightening initially, and somber, Baker said. Eventually she was able to get past the crimes they committed and learn their stories – many of them heart-wrenching.

After her internship, Baker served on the statewide advisory board for Atascadero State Hospital (more than once as chairwoman) and then on the statewide Organization of State Hospital Advisory Boards.

Her involvement reflected a personal and professional commitment, but also an understanding that the health of California’s citizens was a critical precondition for making progress on education issues. 

 ‘Do what feels right’
More directly related to Cal Poly was her work with the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center and the effort to build the PAC – which she cites as one of her proudest accomplishments. The foundation – a partnership between the university, the city and the private sector – launched in 1986; the gleaming Performing Arts Center opened a decade later. Today, Baker and others continue to raise money for ongoing maintenance and upgrades.

“That was a big deal, seeing that come to be. It was a lot of work by a lot of people,” she said.

Many involved in the effort say Baker played a key role in its success.

 “Her passion for the arts in general and for the Performing Arts Center in particular was always front and center,” said Warren Sinsheimer, the first president of the PAC foundation board. “Carly offered insights that were often keenly important; she recruited other volunteers; she raised money; she planned events and, when the events came, she dove in and made sure they succeeded.”

Baker brought the same work ethic to planning events on campus, such as the opening and closing celebrations of the Centennial Fundraising Campaign that began in 2001 and raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars for the university.

In organizing those events, she was never afraid to roll up her sleeves and do the work – moving tables, putting out linen and decorating.

“I only like small committees – a few people who are there ready to do the work,” Baker said. “You’ve got to be ready to get your hands dirty, if you want it to be the way you want it to be.”

And the way she has always wanted it to be is elegant and stylish, with no detail overlooked in pursuit of helping the university put its best foot forward.

“If you’re going to do it, it should be nice,” Baker said. “You should do the best job you can.”

After implementing her vision so successfully over the years, does she have any advice for the next president’s partner?

 “It would be pretentious of me to offer any, because it’s a very personal thing,” she said. “It’s important that they be their own person – approach the role how they see fit and do what feels right to them.”

BY THE NUMBERS

The Warren Baker Era

6 – Number of U.S. Presidents occupying the White House since Warren Baker assumed the Cal Poly presidency in 1979.

102,237 – Total number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees Cal Poly has awarded since Warren Baker assumed presidency (excluding the upcoming Class of 2010).

17 – Number of consecutive years (including 2009-10) that U.S. News & World Report has rated Cal Poly as the best public-master’s university in the West.

1 – Current ranking of Cal Poly’s endowment among the CSU’s 23 campuses ($131 million in 2009).

14,684 – Cal Poly’s student enrollment in Fall 1979, when Dr. Baker took the helm.

19,325 – Cal Poly’s student enrollment Fall 2009.

8,799 – Number of applicants to Cal Poly for Fall 1984.

41,000 – Approximate number of applicants to Cal Poly in Fall 2010, competing for about 3,900 spaces.

3.91 – Average grade-point average for first-time Cal Poly freshmen for Fall 2010.

74 – Percentage of the 3,011 Cal Poly students who enrolled in 2003 and who graduated within six years – a record high for Cal Poly and one of the best graduation rates among California’s public universities.

89 – Percentage of 2007-08 grads who were employed full time or enrolled in graduate school one year of graduating from Cal Poly.

3,200 – Number of acres in the Swanton Pacific Ranch, near Santa Cruz, which alumnus Al Smith bequeathed to Cal Poly in 1993 bringing Cal Poly’s total land holdings to 9,678 acres.

46 – Number of new buildings/facilities added to campus during Baker’s tenure including construction projects now under way.

20 – Number of new majors introduced for undergraduates during Baker’s tenure.

68 – Number of bachelor’s degree programs offered at Cal Poly as of 2010.

15 – Number of new master’s degree programs introduced during Baker’s tenure.

29 – Number of master’s degree programs offered at Cal Poly as of 2010.

19 – Number of centers and institutes established during Baker’s tenure.

What Others Say

Leon Panetta, CIA director and former 16th Congressional District representative
"Warren Baker has demonstrated both courage and wisdom in his leadership, and has stayed true to his principles. He has provided a steady hand and needed stability for Cal Poly during dire times of budgetary turmoil, resulting in consistent and far-sighted improvements in both curriculum and facilities. His achievements have positively impacted the lives of thousands of students in California and across the nation."

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, U.S. 22nd Congressional District
“Warren Baker's leadership has been a key reason Cal Poly has earned an excellent reputation nationally. President Baker has been relentless in his focus on urging students and faculty to search for practical solutions to real-world problems. As a result, Cal Poly is a pre-eminent provider of the resourceful professionals that we need to keep California and America competitive in such fields as agriculture, engineering and architecture.”

Rep. Lois Capps, U.S. 23rd Congressional District
“President Warren Baker has been an exceptional leader for Cal Poly and our community over the past three decades. I have watched with admiration as President Baker has guided the university to national recognition as an institution of higher learning and excellence. His tireless efforts have helped the university grow and become an invaluable source of innovative and well-rounded graduates that are vital to the future of California’s most important industries. It has been a pleasure working with him and his talented staff over the years, and I know he will be sorely missed by the entire Cal Poly family.”

Jack O’Connell, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction
“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. The imprint of his legacy will live on through the work of Cal Poly's staff and the tens of thousands of students who graduated with technical and other degrees and currently have successful careers in our hypercompetitive global economy.”

Charles Reed, Chancellor, California State University
“Under Warren’s direction, Cal Poly emerged as one of the nation’s premier polytechnic universities, with an outstanding reputation for graduating students who are highly sought after by employers. Warren is also admired by his colleagues around the United States for his leadership on policy issues, especially in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and research.  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.”

James M. Rosser, President, California State University, Los Angeles
“I have known Warren and Carly for more than three decades.  Together they have made extraordinary contributions to Cal Poly, the California State University, their community, the state and the nation.  As an early leader in national efforts to strengthen science, math, engineering and technology education, Warren has been crucial to America’s efforts to keep pace with the growing demand for a knowledgeable, skilled workforce – and particularly one that reflects America broadly. He has been steadfast in his dedication to access for individuals who are underrepresented in higher education, and he has been tireless in fostering their success.”

John Vasconcellos, former California State Legislator
“As the leading legislator shepherding California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, I had the pleasure of meeting Warren Baker shortly after his arrival at Cal Poly. He proved to be a very bright, caring and concerned president and inspiring leader not just for Cal Poly but in the state’s entire system of higher education. As our friendship developed over the years, I found myself readily turning to him for advice on the needs – and the solutions – regarding the future of California’s students.”

William H. Swanson, Chairman and CEO, Raytheon Company
“As an alum and member of the President’s Cabinet, I have witnessed firsthand the tremendous impact Warren Baker has had on the future of so many students and members of the faculty. His dedicated leadership has contributed immeasurably to Cal Poly’s world-class educational reputation and to its distinctive ‘learn-by-doing’ approach. His work has nourished a culture where it is safe to dream and where challenges are regarded as opportunities for development and success. He has challenged all of us to make it better for those who follow us.”

Steve Ciesinski, Vice President for Strategic Programs, SRI International, and Chairman of Cal Poly President’s Cabinet
 “Warren Baker has built a remarkable network of contacts from industries across California and the U.S., and these business and technical leaders provide valuable advice as well as financial support to Cal Poly. Few people realize how effective he has been at this critical project, nor do many realize how important industry support has been in providing countless educational opportunities for students and faculty. It really is an extraordinary accomplishment.”

Gary Bloom, retired Chairman and CEO of VERITAS Software Corp., and Chairman of the Cal Poly Foundation Board, the university’s major fundraising organization.

“Cal Poly receives very generous support from students, parents and alumni, as well as the university’s many industry partners because they know that Cal Poly is delivering a student experience that builds confident, resourceful professionals and, ultimately, innovative leaders in their field. President Baker’s tireless work over the years has been to make sure the student experience is challenging and relevant to what will be expected of students when they begin their professional careers.”

John Sweeney, CEO of Dairy Procurement Group, President of the Cal Poly Alumni Association Board of Directors
“Dr. Baker deeply understands the unique place we serve in the West and has been a vocal advocate of the importance and the differences in educating agriculture, engineering and architecture at the national, state and system levels. Cal Poly continues to produce resourceful, well-trained professionals and innovative leaders. We have all benefited from his influence and wisdom. He has often taken a stand and made a very positive mark on Cal Poly during his tenure. Personally, he has been a friend, mentor and role model.”

Timeline

1979-1980s

May 22, 1979 – CSU Board of Trustees names Warren J. Baker as Cal Poly’s eighth president.

Aug. 22, 1979 – Baker takes the reins of the university, becoming the youngest campus president in CSU history.

Fall 1979 quarter – Cal Poly’s student enrollment is 14,684.

1980 – Baker establishes the President’s Cabinet, an advisory group of industry, government and community leaders.

Fall quarter 1980 – Enrollment jumps to 16,048.

1983 –  President Ronald Reagan appoints Baker to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (USAID).

Fall 1984 – Nearly 9,000 apply for admission to Cal Poly.

1985 – New engineering building (Building 13) is completed.

1985 – President Reagan appoints Baker to the National Science Board, the governing body for
the National Science Foundation. Baker is reappointed in 1988.

1988 – The Agricultural Sciences building is completed.

 

1990s

April 30, 1990 – In the wake of a weekend of unrest near campus, Baker suspends Poly Royal, Cal Poly’s 58-year-old open house showcase.

Fall quarter 1990 – Enrollment climbs to 17,756 while first-time applications jump from 9,000 in 1984 to 15,600.

Nov. 21, 1991 – Cal Poly students vote to increase their fees in order to maintain athletics at the university and move Cal Poly teams to NCAA Division I.

Construction is completed on the new Business Building and a remodel of the Education Building.

1993 – Alumnus Al Smith, founder of Orchard Supply Hardware, donates his 3,200-acre Swanton Pacific Ranch near Santa Cruz to Cal Poly, along with $12 million for an endowment to support hands-on learning at the ranch.

Oct. 4, 1993 – U.S. News & World Report ranks Cal Poly as the best public-master’s university in the west for the first time.

1994 – The Athletics Program moves to Division I competition.

April 1994 – At the initiative of student leaders, following the 1990 suspension of Poly Royal, Cal Poly relaunches its annual spring showcase event as Open House and the Poly Royal Rodeo.

July 10, 1996 – CSU trustees endorse the Cal Poly Plan and Chancellor Munitz subsequently approves implementation of a special Cal Poly academic fee in support of the plan.

September 1996 – The Performing Arts Center’s Christopher Cohan Center holds its grand opening performance festival.

1998 – Cal Poly launches its six-year, $225 million Centennial Campaign.

1999 – The College of Engineering opens its Advanced Technologies Laboratories building, the first building on campus constructed without state funding.

 

2000s

2000 – Kinko’s Copy founder Paul Orfalea donates $15 million to the university, leading to the naming of the Orfalea College of Business.

2000 – The 47-acre Sports Complex is completed.

Fall quarter 2000 – Enrollment is 16,877; applications jump again to 20,816.

March 8, 2001 – On the 100th anniversary of its founding, Cal Poly celebrates “History Day,” one of a slate of events in 2001-02 marking the university’s centennial.

April 21, 2001 – Cal Poly launches Centennial Campaign with banquet featuring NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw.

May 28, 2001 – CSU trustees approve a major revision of the Cal Poly campus Master Plan, authorizing growth in campus enrollments and construction of facilities, with emphasis on growth in the university’s polytechnic areas.

2001 – Unocal donates its 3,200-foot pier at Avila Beach to Cal Poly for research and marine science education, along with $4.5 million for an endowment for maintenance and two professorships.

2002 – Cal Poly students vote to expand the scope of the Cal Poly Plan, introducing college based fees in each of the six colleges.

2004 – Cal Poly begins offering a bachelor’s degree  in wine and viticulture.

2005 – Cal Poly celebrates completion of the Centennial Campaign with a closing event featuring alumnus Burt Rutan. Raising more than $264 million, a CSU record

2006 – The Mustang Memorial Plaza is dedicated as a salute to the 16 Cal Poly football players, the team manager and a team booster killed in a 1960 plane crash.

2007 – The Architecture Department receives a $60 million bequest from an anonymous donor, the largest single gift ever made to a CSU campus.

2006 – Completion of engineering quadrant, including Bonderson Projects Building, funded fully by generous contribution from Paul and Sandra Bonderson.

Aug. 19, 2008 – Grand opening held for the first phase of the Poly Canyon Village student housing complex. The project adds 2,600 beds to Cal Poly’s student housing program.

March 2009 – Cal Poly students vote again to expand the Cal Poly Plan. An overwhelming 78 percent of those voting endorse an increase in the college-based fee.

Aug. 20, 2009 – U.S. & World Report names Cal Poly the best public-master’s university in the west for the 17th straight year.

Fall 2009 Quarter – Cal Poly’s student enrollment is 19,325

Dec. 7, 2009 – Baker announces intention to retire after a successor assumes the presidency in mid-2010.