The passing of former Sonoma State University President Peter Diamandopoulos will be noted by many of the retired faculty and staff. Few will have much good to say about his time at Sonoma. His reign was turbulent with him being censured three times by the faculty and finally forced to resign.
I was one of the Dimo hires and one of the last to retire some 31 years later. In addition to the turbulence, I also remember some of his positive contributions.
The Associated Students had voted itself out of existence about a decade before his arrival. There was no formal student voice on campus.
He directed the Associated Students back into existence. Against the wishes of some faculty and administrators, he demanded that students be represented on all university and hiring committees. There were many faculty and administrators that resisted student involvement.
He was very student centered. Although Sonoma was heavily a reentry student campus with only about 10 percent of the students residing on campus, he expected administrators to show up at student events.
On Fridays before a home game, his office would call to remind us we were expected to be there for the game. There was no email in those days. If we weren’t present or he didn’t see us, we could expect a phone call from him beginning at 8:01 a.m. on the following Monday requesting an explanation.
The Pub was his idea and each St. Patrick Day, which was the anniversary of its opening, administrators were expected to be there. He kept count of who was present.
He was proud that one of his first acts was to ban nude sunbathing and swimming at the Zinfandel Pool, the only swimming pool on campus at the time. Faculty and staff would often come over to relax naked.
Twice a semester, he held an open forum with students, one in the Residential Community and one in the Student Union. He would be there to answer questions and concerns from students. He also set aside a couple of hours each week for students to drop into his office.
He had a special affinity for students, faculty and staff of color. For Black History Month, he and his wife came to at least two events every year.
He overturned several searches when a qualified candidate of color wasn’t hired. Sonoma State had a much higher percentage of black faculty and staff in those days. My impression is regardless of how liberal Sonoma wanted to project itself as; there was still a high level of cronyism in the hiring processes.
I know many will say that his presidency was the worst in the history of the university and it probably was. We were a young campus; only about 20 years old, we were still finding our way.
What I remember most about his tenure was his commitment to student involvement and support. At times, it was frustrating and demanding but it’s a value he brought to the campus at a time when it was badly needed.
Chuck Rhodes is a retired assistant vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Sonoma State University.