Armiñana gears up for ‘graduation’ after 24 years

Tucked away on the first floor in the corner of Sonoma State University’s Stevenson Hall sits room 1062. Accommodating Sonoma State’s president’s office, as well as vice president and university affairs, the space hasbeen home to one man for 24 years. By July 1, President Ruben Armiñana will no longer be occupying the office he has had for over two decades.

In 1992, Armiñana became the university’s sixth president. Holding his Ph.D in political science from the University of New Orleans, Armiñana was the vice president of finance at Cal Poly Pomona for four years and credits his wife Marne for convincing him to consider the position at Sonoma State.

“My wife, who is a lot smarter than me, [She] is the one who made me think about taking the position,” said Armiñana. “She began to list off things such as size, location, and academic standing, and I really told myself I should listen to what she says.”

According to Armiñana, at the time he was selected to become president, Sonoma State was known primarily as a commuter school, meaning most students lived off campus or at home.

The university was also dependent on re-entry students who could only take one or two classes at a time because of other priorities. During his 24 years here, Armiñana increased the size of residential housing to hold 9,100 students from its previous capacity of 3,100. He sees the changing of Sonoma State from a commuter school to a residential campus as a highlight of his tenure.

“This feels like a university in every way now,” said Susan Kashack, associate vice president for marketing and communications in university affairs. “We have clubs, fraternities, sororities and others out every day talking about what they do and creating opportunities for every student to connect somewhere.”

Kashack has worked with Armiñana for nearly his entire tenure at the university.

Under Armiñana, there also has been the development of the Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center, the Environmental Technology Center,  the Donald and Maureen Green Music Center and the Student and Recreation Centers.

There has been some criticism from faculty and students over the years concerning the immense construction of architecture that has occured during Armiñana’s tenure, saying he has focused too much on buildings rather than on academics.  

Costing an estimated $145 million for its completion in 2012, the Green Music Center was originally thought of as a $10 million auditorium project in 1997. In May 2007, Sonoma State faculty voted 73 percent in favor of a no confidence vote towards Armiñana, with about 68 percent of eligible faculty voting. With tuition and student fees rising throughout the years, students often looked to blame their university president.  However Kashack accounts the reason for increased costs coming from the CSU system.

“Anytime there is a rise in tuition, it is systemwide, not campused based and that includes President Armiñana as part of the campus,” said Kashack.

The achievement Armiñana considers to be his greatest is the increase of student interest in the university across California.

“My biggest accomplishment is the recognition, both locally and statewide, in the change of the university to a more desirable campus,” said Armiñana. “Instead of having a problem with a lack of enrollment, we have too many students enrolling now.”

While he has changed Sonoma State’s image and architecture, Armiñana does wish he could have changed the entire curriculum to reflect four-unit courses within each school instead of some classes being worth only two or three units. During his tenure, he’s managed to get every school to comply with this proposal except for the School of Social Sciences. When asked if he would work with incoming president Judy K. Sakaki to help fully incorporate this unit proposal across the university, Armiñana said he would not be coaching her on what she should and shouldn’t do.

Armiñana has known Sakaki since her tenure as Educational Opportunity Program director at California State University, East Bay over 15 years ago.

“The best thing [a] former president can do, is fade away,” said Armiñana.

After his exit at the end of the semester, he will still be involved with the university by being the last trustee professor ever in the CSU system. Armiñana will have to be available to give advice to CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White as well as Sakaki. In his first year under this new title he will also have a sabbatical year to decide whether he wants to come back to teaching at Sonoma State University involving his area of expertise, political economy. During his paid leave, Armiñana plans to travel to Wisconsin to stay in one a few cabin’s owned by his wife’s family sometime in the end of July as well as travel to Norway in the upcoming year. Armiñana believes he has accomplished what he set out to do 24 years ago and he feels good about the legacy he’sleaving at Sonoma State.

“It took 24 years to graduate but commencement day is coming,” said Armiñana.