History of campus improperly described

Dear Editor:

In your Vol 75 #1 lead article, I read the following statement: “Prior to Armiñana joining the campus, Sonoma State was vastly different, according to many. The institution was primarily a commuter school with re-entry students and on the edge of impeding closure.”

This is preposterous! I don’t know who these “many” are the reporter allegedly talked to but clearly it included no one with a historical memory.

Sonoma State underwent a tough period in the early 1980’s under President Peter Diamandopolous. The institution’s popularity was in free fall, and accordingly so were its budgets and faculty lines. We actually laid off a dozen TENURED faculty. But through the rest of the decade under President David Benson the institution recovered, and was in good shape BEFORE the arrival of Armiñana.

At no time was there ever any serious threat of impending closure.

When I first joined the faculty here in 1970, Sonoma State was unquestionably a commuter school, and many students were “re-entry”, i.e., somewhat older than the traditional college-age. Neither of these was a particularly bad thing, by the way – as your story almost made it sound. In any case, the character of the student population has been gradually changing over the decades and was doing so well before the era of Armiñana.

Sonoma State has changed over the Armiñana years, mostly due to his Edifice Complex. We have the glitzy Green Music Center, the glitzy Schulz Library, the glitzy Rec Center, the glitzy Student Center, and lots of glitzy dorms – uh, “residence halls” as they are known on elite campuses. What’s wrong with all that? Budgets, that’s what! All this glitz isn’t free, or even cheap. It’s been paid for by borrowing (putting the campus under immense debt stress), by charging already over-charged students ever more in fees (highest in the CSU, except for Cal Poly SLO which is a technical school), and by cutting academic budgets relentlessly and remorselessly.

The Rolls-Royce is one helluva car, but maybe if you’re on an academic budget you’ll have to settle for driving a Dodge Dart.

If students want to go to college in a country-club environment, Sonoma State is the place. If students actually want to learn, it’s going to be tough. My department (Mathematics) is a case in point, although this story is repeated across the campus. We had 15 permanent faculty members a few years ago. There have been 2 resignations (gone to higher-paying jobs elsewhere) and 5 retirements. We have been granted ONE replacement! So we are down to 9 now, a 40% loss.

How do we cope? 1) Some courses are just not offered any more; 2) Courses that remain are stuffed fuller with students, placing a burden not only on us but on the students themselves, who have to share our time and attention with more of their colleagues; 3) We hire temps – and ruthlessly exploit them – leaving the business of running the University to fewer and fewer permanent faculty, and thereby making a mockery out of the concept of "shared governance".

There seems to be plenty of money for hundred-year-old olive trees and marble-floored bathrooms in the extravagant Taj Mahal over on the One-percenters’ side of the campus. Even on this side there’s plenty of money for ever more and higher-paid administrators. My department can’t even afford to buy pens. The claim in your story that “Armiñana pushed his version of academic excellence that focused around curricular learning” is at best a cruel joke. What academic excellence there is here is due to the relentless dedication of overworked and overburdened faculty.

The faculty’s No Confidence vote in 2007 got little mention in your story. Readers who want to know what the faculty voted for by almost 3-to-1 regarding the President’s provocations should check out the “Rationale” in the Academic Senate resolution of 10 May 2007 athttp://www.sonoma.edu/senate/resolutions/noconfidencevote07.html

On the plus side, I applaud your editorial comment that “the campus is known for its luxurious dorms and luscious landscapes. But when did the appearance of a college campus become a replacement for academics?”