Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics (building 180), Faculty Offices East, the research facility that will soon be full of laboratories for undergraduate research, the “Study 25-35” campaign, the DREAM Center: these are all Cal Poly legacies credited to one man: Phil Bailey.
The College of Science and Mathematics (COSAM) dean will retire in June after 48 years of service to Cal Poly. To say goodbye to the university, he will give a commencement speech at graduation, as he too is “graduating.”
“There has been no greater champion of Learn by Doing than Phil Bailey. Through decades as a dean at Cal Poly, he has continued to teach chemistry classes almost every quarter. His love of teaching, of helping his students along to that big moment of discovery, is palpable both to those of us who work with him and those who learn from him,” President Jeffrey Armstrong said. “It is impossible to overstate the positive impact he has had on Cal Poly and on the thousands of people he has mentored and inspired to greater things over his nearly 50-year career.”
Bailey came to Cal Poly in 1969 and never left. Starting as a professor in chemistry, he was surprised by his consideration for the position of associate dean in 1973. In fact, he was in the restroom when he got the news. He took the position, but said with utmost certainty, “I’ll do this, but I do not want to be the dean.”
Bailey’s goal was never to be in leadership, but to remain on the level of professor so he could be in closer contact with students. When former COSAM Dean Clyde P. Fisher died, Bailey’s name came back into conversation. Although he didn’t want it, Bailey reluctantly took over the position of interim dean for two years and became the official dean of COSAM in 1983.
Even after becoming dean, he continued to teach for many years.
“That’s why I came to Cal Poly in the first place,” Bailey said. “If I didn’t teach, I couldn’t be in the lab. The lab is where you get to know students and get a better scene of the student body,”
Since the day he came to Cal Poly, Bailey promoted student success. At the beginning of each academic year, Bailey waited in the Muir Hall for incoming freshman, just so he would get to meet them and make them feel welcome.
One of these students was Stephanie Lee. Recently, at a banquet for students receiving their single-subject teaching credential, Lee received her credential ten feet away from Bailey, who she said was the first person she met at Cal Poly.
Bailey took an interest in student’s personal lives as well. He used to meet with freshmen and sophomores for their first two quarters at Cal Poly and would often talk to them about studying, being safe, the importance of sleep and the difference between memorizing and learning. He is known for giving out his personal phone number to students that he is close with or those in need of emotional support.
“We have all types of Cal Poly grandkids. All the way from Sweden, Turlock to Vietnam,” Bailey said.
It’s not just Bailey who feels this way. Current students and alumni have memories of Cal Poly that are unique because of him.
“Phil is more than a professional role model to me. He taught me that actions are stronger than words. He taught me about integrity, love, family, work ethic, charity, wine, how to make rice, living on the edge, even though sometimes he went beyond the edge. With Phil and Tina [Bailey], it was a family in more ways than you can imagine,” chemistry alumni Victor Vilchiz said in the Cal Poly Intersections Magazine.
People say Bailey made everyone feel included whether they were staff, students or faculty.
“Phil and Tina [Bailey] are the most generous people,” Chris Lancellotti, previous administrative assistant to Bailey, said. “They had students live with them who needed help financially. It was truly a pleasure coming to work everyday. I had such awe for them. They are some of the most dedicated to student educators that I have ever come across in my time at Cal Poly.”
Bailey has also done work for the undocumented students of Cal Poly. Being a central advocate for their rights on campus, he has relationships with many undocumented students and helped them get access to things they needed. He was also influential in establishing the DREAM center — a safe place for undocumented students.
“They don’t see themselves as any different from you. They see this as their country just as it is your country,” Bailey said. “Undocumented students are hard because they can’t get what they need if they don’t have the paperwork. Even if you have the money.”
Building the campus
Beyond his emotional and personal impact, Bailey has had a large physical impact in regards to the science buildings that he helped construct and plan. A personal pride for Bailey is his involvement in the construction of three major buildings on campus — Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics, Faculty Offices East and a new building set to open in 2021 that will contain laboratories for undergraduate research.
“It’s extremely difficult to get one building to be built, much less three!” Bailey said, laughing.
When Bailey began teaching as a professor at Cal Poly, faculty offices were designed inefficiently with two or more people sharing offices. “Unacceptable,” he thought.
Bailey walked outside his office, found an architecture student lying in the grass and asked the student to draw a mockup of the new idea of a faculty offices building. Because the building was state funded, it had to go through many rounds of proposals and processes to be approved by the California State University system. Despite this, Faculty Offices East was constructed faster than most buildings at Cal Poly, taking only seven years from conception to completion. As it was his first time trying to complete a new building, Bailey was blissfully unaware of the possibilities of potential failure.
“At the time, I wasn’t smart enough to know that it could fail. I just kept believing,” Bailey said.
The most recently completed, largest building on campus sits in the center, its red bricks bright in the glaring sunlight that shines directly overhead. It is beautiful and unlike the others, regal amongst less beautiful buildings in terms of age and architectural complexity: Baker Science. An ambitious Bailey first proposed the state-of-the-art science center in 1993 to then-President
Warren J. Baker.
“Baker has changed our campus. It’s the second most popular place on campus to study. It has really set the standards for other buildings to be built in the future,” Bailey said.
Recently, several photo prints and displays by Cal Poly professor Brian Lawler were added to Baker, as was a diversity mural in the third floor foyer. Bailey has developed many creative artworks to provide a welcoming atmosphere to students and faculty.
Cal Poly’s newest uncompleted building was also touched by Bailey. With the monetary donations of Bill Frost — the Cal Poly alumni donor who recently gave COSAM $110 million — Bailey was able to promote and push for more undergraduate research, scholarships and a newer building before his retirement: a state-of-the-art laboratory that will be equipped with 18,000 assignable square feet filled with labs and classrooms. It will be installed between English (building 22) and Baker Science in the open area grass space.