President Armiñana discusses retirement, campus issues

STAR // Brennan Chin Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana spoke to the STAR staff in an interview on Tuesday about his impending reitrement and other issues.

STAR // Brennan Chin
Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana spoke to the STAR staff in an interview on Tuesday about his impending reitrement and other issues.

The STAR staff held its annual meeting with Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana and other university administrators on Tuesday to discuss issues the campus faces this year, as well as Armiñana’s approaching retirement. Armiñana has announced he will retire at the end of the school year. Topics discussed at the meeting included Sonoma State’s acceptance rate and growing student population, an eventual redesign of Sonoma State’s website, parking issues and Armiñana’s personal goals for the remainder of his presidency. A forum where the campus community can gived input on what they want to see in a new president is on Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Ballroom A of the Student Center. Below is an excerpt of the interview with Armiñana and campus adminstrators.

 
STAR: Do you have any personal goals for your last nine months as president of Sonoma State?
Armiñana: Don’t screw it up. I’d like very much to see that we hire 18 new faculty. I’m a great believer in tenure faculty because they are the ones who build the university. We had years because of a [recession]  when we didn’t hire anybody. We need to build back, and I think we’re moving in the right direction and I am looking forward to commencement. Some people take 4, 6 years to graduate. I have taken 24.

STAR: Why retire now?
Armiñana: I’m old. I have been president for 24 years, I am the senior president in the CSU, not in ages, but years of service. I started very young, I was 45 years old. It’s just time. I have done it for a long time. I have accomplished a lot of the things I wanted to do. My timeline is coming to an end.

Police Chief Nathan Johnson: What Ruben has emphasized to us is that the students come first—we are partners with you, we are your president, dean, chief financial officer. We’re here with you, for you and that’s really important to remember.

Armiñana: I’ve always said the only reason we are here is because of you, the students. If for some strange reason, you all form a conspiracy and don’t show up — we’d close. We don’t get paid to teach each other. If you one day don’t show up, the university closes. You are the only reason we exist. Students have that ultimate power. Public universities are not created to do anything else but receive you and graduate you. Our end product is you graduating. It’s not how many of you come, it’s how many of you get out.

STAR: What are you most proud of during your time at Sonoma State?

Armiñana: When I first came to Sonoma State, I would go to a meeting and ask how many people have graduated from Sonoma State. [At that time] you never saw a car with an SSU sticker and [Sonoma State] was not well known or respected by the community. And now everywhere I go, [students] are proud to be graduate of Sonoma State. I am most proud of the good recognition of Sonoma State as a high quality institution and the acceptance by the community. I have built a lot of buildings — billions of dollars of buildings. Buildings are important [because they] give you the framework, but it’s what happens in those buildings. I am happy of what happens in those buildings.

STAR: Do we know who the next president will be?
Armiñana: Nobody knows. There is a meeting [this week] on Oct. 8 where the search committee and advisory committee will meet and have an open forum for people to tell whatthey want in the next president. Then the process begins and new president will be named sometime toward the end of January and will take over July 1, 2016. But nobody knows who he or she might be.

STAR: What qualities do you think the new president needs to succeed at Sonoma State?
Armiñana: Thick skin. The ability not to take criticisms personally, the ability to have a vision about what this institution should be and to stick to that vision.  The key of it is not to do what everybody tells to do because then you would do thousands of things and 99 percent of which would be incompatible with each other. You have to have vision and you need thick skin.  

STAR: Is there anything in your presidency you wish you had done differently?
Armiñana: Oh sure. There are many things I wish I had done differently or achieved. I believe that our curriculum should be based on four-unit courses. We have combination of one- to four-unit classes. I haven’t found any coherent reason for it. When I was in school at the University of Texas, all courses were three-unit courses, and if you had a lab it was four. Here, [the units] are all over the map. Some schools have moved to four units [per class]— social science and science courses. Aside from symmetry, there’s also a practical reason [for four unit course]. California culture is that many students take four courses not five. Four courses at three units each is 12 units with funding [that supports student enrolled in] 15 units. If they were all four unit course, that would be 16. Everybody would be full time and students would be able to graduate in four years. On the faculty side, it would allow faculty to do less preparation. I have not been able to sell that and it will be an unachieved goal.

STAR: Are there more ways the university is going to be more sustainable on campus as far as composting?
Associate Vice President for Administration and Finance Christopher Dinno: Yes, we already have composting going on in the Student Center currently. In the residential halls, we have two kinds of programs. We are working with housing to bring the composting program to housing and I think there are two pilot programs going on in two of the villages.

STAR: How will the Sonoma State website be redesigned? When will the overhaul be finished?
Chief Communications Officer Susan Kashack: We’re doing a major overhaul of our website. It’s going to be on the navigation, the way [the website] looks, the photography and the way things are written. It’s going to be completely different. We’ve already started the planning process of [revamping the website]. So we expect mid-year, maybe in another month or two. We’re working with an outside company and they will be moving much more quickly than we tend to move on this campus. So once it all begins, we expect to have some of the major pages up and ready to go and online by about March.

STAR: With the increasing student population, how are housing options and class sizes going to be improved?
Associate Vice President of Academic Programs Richard Whitkus: That’s an ongoing project and so what we have to do is always think about what we are currently doing and what could we do better and sometimes we do things we’ve been doing for many many years and sometimes it takes a fresh look to look at these things and say ‘you know what’ if we would just alter [what we currently do], we can probably serve more students.  In other cases, the institutions also carry a large number of faculty, something that President Armiñana started two years ago to increase the number of faculty. It also pushes on us the need to be creative, because we can’t just keep doing the things we’ve been doing while we increase [our student population].

STAR: Are there any plans to lower the acceptance rate at Sonoma State?
Armiñana: We have a commitment to the state of California to educate a number of students. That translates to around 1,800 or 1,900 freshman. Remember that a university is supposed to lose a fourth of its students in May and gain a fourth of its students in August. That’s how it works outif you graduate in four years. Therefore, we’re master-planned as a university to have 10,000 students, roughly 12,000 bodies. We count you as a full-time equivalent studentif a student takes 15 units every semester. Roughly, that is our number [of students],  and I don’t foresee that number to lower.

STAR: Rather than lowering the acceptance rate, you want to expand facilities to accommodate more students. How do we do that?
Armiñana: Get more money and resources from the state of California. Public universities have four levels of resources. 1) State appropriation, right now that’s basically 50 percent [of our budget]. When I started [at Sonoma State] it was 80 percent. 2) Cost—what [students] pay. One time you paid 20 percent and now you pay 50 percent. 3) Philanthropy and fundraising. We do very well, we raise $10 to $11 million a year, but that money goes toward specific things. It doesn’t pay faculty or utilities. 4) Grants, contracts and research. We are not a research university but we still [do research]. Those are our four resources and how you manage them makes a difference. With our own funding, we are creating more classrooms

STAR: Will there be any changes in the future regarding reserved parking lots on campus to make students feel safer near Carson Hall?
Johnson: As always of course, we emphasize, if you feel unsafe, give us a call and we can get somebody out to you. That being said, a transportation committee is meeting [Sept. 29] and we will start addressing parking and transportation issues. So it’s a little premature to say what that’s going to look like but we want to get feedback from the community and everybody. Hopefully in the spring semester sometime we’ll go forward with those [issues] and [we can] share more details with you then in a more concrete way.