Cal Poly boss Warren Baker to retire? Finally?

September 17, 2008


While academic associates might consider it an oxymoron, seldom-seen Cal Poly President Warren Baker may announce his retirement shortly.

Baker has been discussing his plans with friends and ironing out financial issues with university officials, according to numerous sources.

Baker has been at the helm of the internationally recognized university since 1979, and, during his three-decade reign, his annual paycheck has risen to more than $300,000, making him the highest salaried president in the California State University system.

“Baker is not announcing his retirement this quarter,” said public relations spokesperson Stacia Momburg.

UncoveredSLO learned of Baker’s intentions late last week. A reporter interviewed more than a dozen current and former Cal Poly employees from a variety of departments and administration to glean an insider’s view of the sometimes-shadowy Baker. None wanted to be identified. Thus, accompanying the avalanche of Baker accolades that surely will ensue is this less-than-laudatory description of the man behind Cal Poly’s curtain.

Known as elusive, Baker is rarely seen in his office; on a campus where parking space shortages can discourage the most determined student, Baker’s private spot often remains vacant. The campus newspaper, the Mustang Daily, once offered a prize for any photo taken of Baker on campus. No one succeeded.

Baker has carved out a reputation as a successful fund raiser, but that is an assessment with which sports superstar John Madden might disagree.

Cal Poly alumnus Madden made his mark as a professional football standout, one of the Oakland Raiders’ most successful head coaches, and a legendary broadcaster. For more than ten years, he helped Cal Poly’s student athletic fund raise money by sponsoring and participating in a golf tournament that bore his name. At one point, he was poised to become a major Cal Poly donor and reportedly was discussing his funding of a huge sports stadium in Poly Canyon.

In what would prove to be his last tournament, Madden himself won the big prize, a trip to Hawaii, only to discover that the tournament had been rigged to allow his triumph. Madden directed his anger at Baker and ended his extensive philanthropy with the university, sources said.

Every year at about the same time, Madden mails a one-way airplane ticket to the Cal Poly athletic department in an alleged attempt to send Baker back where he came from, sources said.

Momburg asserts that Madden is currently considered a “friend of the university” although she said she is not certain if he currently supports Cal Poly fund raising efforts.

Madden’s departure as a donor for a new stadium resulted in a rash of pledges from others but many of those remain uncollected, according to sources. Presently, Spanos Stadium is unfinished, lacking sufficient bathrooms, concession space, and one entire section. Poor planning and insufficient funding set the stage for potential disaster, several sources contend.

Despite Cal State University rules prohibiting construction of new projects without funds on hand, Baker fashioned a loophole. He devised a way to take out a $12 million to $15 million line of credit through the Cal Poly Corporation, apparently hoping that pledges would fill the gaps. Sources claim two primary donors on the project have failed to follow through on their pledges.

Momburg asserts that pledges and construction are still on schedule, and the bathrooms have passed inspection. However, she said she was uncertain which agency preformed the inspection.

According to city planning officials, the State Department of Architecture (SDA) is the overseeing agency – though officials from the SDA said they do not oversee health and safety issues such as sufficient bathrooms. That, said a spokesperson, is up to the California State University system to monitor.

Carly Baker, the president’s wife, championed construction of a modern and pricey kitchen for the stadium boxes, including the president’s suite, so that his private chef can prepare gourmet meals during a portion of the six annual home games. Cost of the extreme kitchen? Between $300,000 and $400,000; the final bill is not yet in. Momburg claims the cost is closer to $41,000.

Carly’s extravagance mocks a campus rule prohibiting employees, staff, and club members from procuring food for on-campus consumption from any source other than Campus Catering.

“There is no rule against using outside catering services when campus catering can’t keep up,” Momburg said.

In another act of hubris, Baker prohibited a Dean of Engineering Search Committee from researching his personal favorite, Mohammad Noori, according to members of the committee. Baker took what some describe as an unusual role during the hiring of Noori; the search committee members were told not to contact Noori’s references. Baker then handed Noori the highest salary and benefits package of any CSU college dean.

Baker recently bucked public and campus sentiment when he backed a divisive Noori plan for Cal Poly’s Engineering College’s participation with a Saudi Arabian university. Faculty and donors complained that the plan would exclude many Cal Poly faculty — women, Jews and specific minorities such as gays — from involvement. The plan was widely opposed by the Anti-Defamation League, campus Democratic and Republican club members, as well as the Democratic Central Committee.

Now, UncoveredSLO has learned that the deal remains in jeopardy. The Saudis have not agreed to the latest contract, one rewritten to protect Cal Poly’s interests more specifically. Cal Poly sponsors mailed a signed contract to the Saudis in mid-July. The Saudi’s response: We are having difficulty with procurement issues.

Campus (read state) employees allege they often are required to provide computer repair and personal services for the Bakers at their off-campus home. This, according to Momburg, is necessary because Baker often works from home.

Of Baker’s many awards, one is rarely mentioned. In 2003, U.S. News and World Report bestowed upon Baker the annual Sheldon Award as this nation’s university president with the worst record of free speech on campus. According to the magazine, “The Sheldon is a statuette that looks something like the Oscar, except that the Oscar shows a man with no face looking straight ahead, whereas the Sheldon shows a man with no spine looking the other way.”

Tags:, Cal Poly, Saudi Arabia

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By: TONEDTGR on 12/2/08

just for the record:

one of the last times I saw Warren on campus, he and his wife almost ran me over in the crosswalk [in their Benz], (remember that Warren ?) as I walked to my (2nd) job at the vista grande cafe, I worked 2 jobs just to make ends meet (sound familiar ?)


Cal Poly Donor

Cal Poly Double Alumnus

By: NorthCountyGuy on 11/5/08

The Prez of Cal-Poly is yet another taxpayer-financed parasite?

By: R.Hodin on 9/25/08

It will be one grand and gilded parachute, when Lord & Lady Baker decide to leap!

Imagine the cost of hiring the following domestic help (to replace the current state civil service employees):

Land Steward

House Steward




Lady's Maid


First Footman

Second Footman

Head Nurse


Chamber Maid

Parlour Maid

House Maid

Between Maid


Under Cook

Kitchen Maid

Scullery Maid

Laundry Maid

Page or Tea Boy

Head Groom or Stable Master


Stable Boy

Head Gardener

Game Keeper

Grounds Keepers


Gate Keeper

Plus the cost of housing same.

By: mesaman on 9/21/08

Carly Baker routinely uses her outside caterer on campus while other departments and student groups are denied any outside catering. Campus Catering has always had the exclusive contract on food service on campus but the Bakers ALWAYS get their way. Why do they pay them additional money to live in their mansion off campus, It's their decision, why should taxpayers pay for their extravagant lifestyle. Time for both of them to go.

By: NorthCountyGuy on 9/19/08

The word "narcissism" describes Cal-Poly SLO to a T.

IMO, Cal-Poly SLO is home for narcissist losers who can't qualify for enrollment in real universities like Stanford, UC Berkeley or San Jose State.

The Cal-Poly's narcissist Political Correctness and elitism (i.e., 1930's fascism) could be a perfect fit for hate groups like Al-Qaeda and the Aryan Nation.

By: kenfield on 9/18/08

Roger: The Tribune ran a typically unskeptical item about the Cal Poly graduate salaries that was pretty funny. It doesn't take a statistician to think of many ways in which such averages are liable to be skewed, but the T-T just seemed to transcribe Poly's press release.

By: rogerfreberg on 9/18/08

Congratulations for having the courage to run a wonderfully provocative article about Warren Baker (aka 'the Clown')… I bust a gut when I read about John Madden sending a one-way plane ticket every year to Warren essentially telling him to 'go back to where he came from.'

Let's look at our local university HONESTLY, because they won't. Cal Poly is a good fit for it's nitch… but let's be clear it's a small nitch and it's real value is not what has been marketed. Cal Poly is not 'Best in the West'… and it took the effort on the part of others years ago to clarify… to admit that they were only the top public school in their category… a category that did not include UCLA, Stanford, Berkeley, USC… among many others. TOPS in that category at the time… was Gonzaga. Figures lie and liars figure.

The latest spin has been an unusual result of looking at Salaries after graduation… which is skewed in a number of ways… (I am sure people are data mining it as I write.) Cal Poly is trumpeting their coolness in grad's salary a few years after graduation… but Cal poly doesn't have a school of social work or a lot of majors in categories… that let's just say… pay less. I am sure the analysis has taken out of the equation the dental schools, medical schools ,and such, so frequent at major universities… of course… that wouldn't then be a 'fair' comparison with Cal poly would it?

A lot of anecdotal evidence suggests that getting into a good grad school from Cal Poly is problematical… but then grads already know that.

Cal Poly under Warren Baker has always appeared to me to be a university president that is unwilling to face the truth… especially tough realities, because facing the truth squarely makes you think and hopefully helps to make changes for the better.

On a side note, I don't think public entities like Cal Poly should be allowed to take large anonymous donations… 2 separate 10 million dollar anonymous donations all around the time of the infamous Saudi discussions.. is their a connection?

The potential for conflict of interest is significant. What does the CP Foundation REALLY do? WHY is it really necessary? Should they be allowed to compete in any way with private businesses?

It is clear that Cal Poly needs a change at the top… but if everyone is not careful… it will be more of the same. I have no objection to a white, male, catholic or Irish origin as President… but do they need to always be so?

Congratulations, Daniel and Karen, on such a wonderful article!

I posted about it on my blog as well!

Roger Freberg

Oh yes, I found A picture of Allegedly Warren in a Clown Suit

By: kenfield on 9/18/08

"While academic associates might consider it an oxymoron, seldom-seen Cal Poly President Warren Baker may announce his retirement shortly."

I'm not knowledgeable about Baker, but at least most Poly grads can write a more coherent sentence than the lead you used above. (You guys could really use some kind of editing, or at least proofreading, never mind web and graphics help.)

The US News Sheldon Award makes a nice counterpoint to Cal Poly's placement in their college rankings. The Tribune didn't mention this in their annual item on the US News ranking, but Poly Puffery is one of their most sacred traditions.

Cal Poly does seem better at fundraising, securing equipment donations and doing construction projects than at academics, but it's probably no worse than many other diploma factories.

By: whitefeather on 9/17/08

I just finished at Poly and understand that some teachers have issues with him, most because of his salary it would seem. He raised a TON of money for the school and as said before also raised the national recognition of it. So maybe he deserves to make 5-8 times what teachers do?

By: cp_faculty on 9/17/08

To be fair, many faculty would confer praise on Warren Baker for having elevated the status of Cal Poly from a well known school in 1979, to its current status as one of the TOP ranked in the nation. Much of the credit does go to Warren whose leadership enabled that rise in prestige for CP-SLO. However, his weakness has been to pick quite a few POOR Vice-Presidents and Deans who have eventually been fired, one after the other. The most egregious among all the losers Baker picked is Dean Mohammad Noori who is still here because Baker will not admit his folly in hiring Noori. We may have to wait for the next President before we clear some of the dead wood among the CP administrators!.

By: RonV on 9/17/08

I knew he was going to retire when he declined his beautiful house on campus so he could get a housing allowance and spike his income. That move will further enhance his ridiculous retirement package. Our University system could do without people like Warren Baker. His elitist attitude will not be missed

By: Booty_Juice on 9/17/08

"Oh the ironing is delicious" – Homer (Simpson).

By: yelapop on 9/17/08

All other facts aside, Baker gave his blessing to the hiring of Mohammad Noori. For that reason alone he should be asked to leave. I was mortified by Noori's Saudi deal and Baker's support of it. Ironic that the Saudis are the ones with the problem with the contract. And good for John Madden for putting on the pressure. More heavy-hitting players should take a stand against this kind of double dealing and slime.

By: CuriousGeorgia on 9/17/08

I don't know anyone who will shed tears over this. We might miss the jokes about Warren, though. Those were always plentiful and good for a laugh from the disenchanted.

Onward and upward, Cal Poly. You can do better.