Cal Poly boss Warren Baker to retire? Finally?
September 17, 2008
By DANIEL BLACKBURN and KAREN VELIE
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