On Friday, Oct. 7, President Emeritus Warren J. Baker passed away at 84, Cal Poly announced in a campus-wide email on Saturday.
Born on Sept. 5, 1938, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Baker went on to attend the University of Norte Dame for civil engineering, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1960.
Baker is survived by his wife, Carly, and their children.
The youngest campus president in CSU history, starting at age 40, Baker was an instrumental leader in the growth of Cal Poly– from increasing student enrollment to program growth.
Baker was initiated as Cal Poly’s eighth overall president on May 22, 1979.
“I accidentally got into this at a relatively young age, when I tried out being a dean at a college of engineering,” Baker said before his retirement. “I really thought I would not stay in the academic world. I didn’t have a plan to be a university president.”
Cal Poly’s student enrollment would increase by 4,641 and Baker introduced 20 new undergraduate majors, 72 minors, and 15 master’s degree programs in his time as president.
Anticipating this student growth at Cal Poly, Baker set precedent with the 2001 Master Plan, a vision to meet the campus’ growing space needs for the following 20 years. It eventually became the model for all master plans in the CSU system.
During his 31 years of leadership, Cal Poly was ranked as the best public master’s university in the west for the first time on Oct. 4, 1993.
Baker took on a $1 billion new facilities project including the first new student housing and enhancing the stadium (which would eventually attract Cal Poly alum Alex Spanos), ultimately transforming Cal Poly’s physical campus before retiring in 2010.
“Division I athletics give us additional opportunities to tell the Cal Poly story to a growing audience,” Baker said about his support for Cal Poly athletics.
Three years after his retirement, the second-largest campus structure was dedicated to him: the Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics. The 189,000-square-foot, six-story building at the center of campus symbolized science and math at the core of Cal Poly’s polytechnic curriculum and honored his encouragement to enhance the campus’ architecture.
As part of his efforts to build spaces used by students for living, learning, and recreation, Baker started a partnership between the university and the city of San Luis Obispo for the Performing Arts Center.
Baker’s family requests donations in his honor are made to the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, one of the facilities in his lasting legacies.