Student Engagement initiative reorganizes programs

After a year and a half of planning around the limited budget of Sonoma State’s Student Affairs, Director of Entrepreneurial Activities Neil Markley has developed a reorganizational plan in hopes to centralize campus life, boost SSU tradition and spirit and enhance existing services while promising that roughly 95 percent of students will be largely unaffected by the changes. But many, including student employees and members of the Associated Students Senate, are hesitant to believe him.

Though the details have yet to be finalized, some students are concerned the plan will result in the dismantling of a number of Campus Recreation programs, including SSU Nutrition program, the massage program and the Super Kids Camp program.

The plan would reshape the existing three silos of student affairs (Campus Recreation, the Center for Student Leadership, Involvement and Service office, and Residential Life) into four broader categories, redefining the services and responsibilities for each area. 

The reorganization, referred to as “Student Engagement,” is set to take effect in spring 2014, but Markley and his team are in the process of consulting with students, faculty and staff to explain the changes and receive feedback. 

“[Cutting some] programs are being contemplated, but it’s a consultative process; we want to take it seriously and may have to revisit it,” Markley told the STAR. “But we have to think about how to serve the most amount of students possible. It doesn’t mean we won’t still have targeted programs. These are decisions we don’t want to make, but from time to time it’s good to reevaluate and reprioritize what we do.” He said the money saved from this reorganization would stay within the parameters of student activities, continuously augmenting student programs.

He also said he does not intend to increase student fees to pay for services in the foreseeable future, since students already pay large tuition fees.

Markley spoke at the Associated Students meeting last Friday for the second time this year to discuss the plan. Friday’s meeting held the Associated Students’ biggest public audience to date, according to Community Affairs Senator Libby Dippel.

“We are embracing the new norm,” said Markley at the meeting. But not everyone thinks he’s doing so in the right way.

“We can agree that something needs to change, but we believe that the way the change is happening where they made the plan and wanted to implement it, and then tried to get us involved, isn’t exactly fair,” said Kasey Addiego, a current intramural sports coordinator and a former Super Kids Camp director. 

As of now, the three silos of Student Affairs at Sonoma State operate somewhat independently. Campus Recreation deals largely with the on-campus Recreation Center, fitness programs, sports clubs and intramurals. The Center for Student Leadership, Involvement and Service office serves 180 clubs and organizations. Residential Life is in charge of the conduct of and programming for 3,500 students living on campus.

Markley’s reorganization plan would take effect in spring 2014 and redefines these three organizations into four broader areas: Community, Involvement, Programming and Leadership. 

“The goal is to get everyone on the same page, moving in the same direction,” said Markley. “We wanted to think of it more holistically instead of just departments . . . We wanted to keep intact the spirit of what each organization does now, but expand upon them.”

By refocusing the university’s structure of student activities, Markley said the plan requires staff members to broaden their responsibilities in order to maintain student services while simultaneously assisting with other areas that need support.

 “We’re asking people to do more with less,” said Markley.

Associated Students Senator Annie Green said she believed the plan to streamline staff would be ineffective, citing her recent experience with a maintenance worker who complained about how backed up his workload was. “You say that these minor changes won’t affect the majority of the students, but these aren’t minor changes,” Green said to Markley.

The Community area aims to expand the community feel of Sonoma State beyond on-campus residency in order to encompass more of the main campus. This plan would refocus Community Service Advisors and Res Life staff to assist students with the transition between their second and third years, encouraging off-campus students to participate in more on-campus activities. 

The new area would also encourage more faculty members to live on campus, such as the Weill Hall Artists-in-Residence Trio Ariadne that began living on campus in August.

The Involvement area would act similarly to the Center for Student Leadership, Involvement and Service office by continuing to facilitate and operate all of the student clubs and organizations. 

It also would oversee intramurals and sports clubs, both of which are now under Campus Recreation’s jurisdiction.

“We want [Involvement] to expand and grow so that it’s more encompassing, and not just a clients’ office,” said Markley.

The Programming area would consolidate the programming of the current Student Affairs silos under one umbrella, working together to facilitate one set of on-campus programming.

Markley said one of his primary goals for the final area, Leadership, is to “define something inherent within all students that would differentiate them from students from other campuses.” 

Using examples of formal or informal social and business leadership programs, Markley said he plans to create a pathway that would be valuable and relevant to students from the time they start their first year to their time they leave.

He also said that the experience and leadership skills that on-campus student employees gain is invaluable, and that he hopes that a universal, on-campus employee one- or two-day workshop can be held in the future in order to share leadership techniques.

Markley reiterated that the reorganizational changes would be minor and that the majority of the students would still receive the same services as they do today. 

Dippel said she thinks the plan sounds great on paper, but that there are still holes in it.

“For right now, I lean toward opposing the reorganization,” said Dippel. “However, so far this is only based on Friday’s meeting. Once [they] send us a more detailed report, I’ll come out either entirely for or against it. The school can benefit from it if it does indeed save us money, but students will not benefit from certain programs being cut.”

Because much of the change allocates Campus Recreation’s resources to other areas and merges some operational services with the Student Center, many Campus Rec employees are wary of the change. 

Some Campus Rec services, including the massage program and Super Kids Camp, have been deemed as somewhat unnecessary for the majority of the student population and are at risk of being eliminated.

“The Campus Rec is feeling it the most because we are losing the majority of the programs,” said Addiego. “We have already lost our leader and head director of Campus Recreation, Pam Su, and we are the ones who are unsure as to what the future holds for us and our programs.”

One of Campus Rec’s programs on the chopping block is SSU Nutrition, though Markley said efforts have been made on his part to keep the program integrated with the Student Center’s development. Still, SSU Nutrition intern Jestina Casas is prepared and somewhat excited for the change.

“We’re currently in the process of becoming a club so we can stick around,” said Casas. “We would be able to fundraise on our own and can hold off campus events a lot easier. It’s a whole different set of rules but we’re essentially trying to keep the same things we’re doing now. I absolutely think we’ll have more freedom.”

Markley guaranteed that it is not the entrepreneurial staff’s intent to reduce student employment. 

“You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but we have a commitment to hiring student employees,” said Markley. “We’re trying to preserve our goals and services; it’s not about reducing service.”

Two years ago, the lack of significant funding resulted in the split of Sonoma State’s Student Affairs into two departments: Academic Affairs and Administration and Finance, which Markley represents. Six months after the split, Markley and his team began the development of the reorganizational plan with the intent to pay close attention to students’ wants and needs. 

“Student feedback from the beginning would have made this a smoother process and could ultimately make this whole thing even stronger,” said Addiego. “It seems as if . . . when they felt the resistance of the students is when they decided to get feedback and listen to the students’ voices. Not everyone is going to benefit from every change that will be made, but right now there are a lot of unanswered questions.”

Markley emphasized their desire for feedback from program facilitators and students, saying that the majority of constituents they’ve talked to are on board with the plan. But Low Ropes Coordinator Cammy York, who was disappointed with how the meeting went, said that Campus Rec is not on board at all.

“We were told that we would be dismantled and have had no say in it whatsoever,” said York. “[Markley] should be coming to our meetings, talking with us individually, doing everything in his power to make us feel more comfortable and help us understand why he chose to dismantle us.”

 “The Recreation Center is a building that is ‘For the students, by the students,’” said Addiego. “It is a well-oiled machine, and it would be a shame to see it dismantled into smaller parts.”

Executive President Mac Hart asked Markley how the reorganization plan will maintain the student-run nature of Campus Rec. Markley said they do not intend on changing that, and that many areas of the Student Center will facilitate student ambassadors.

“It will be in the hands of the students,” said Peter Neville, who attended the meeting with Markley and oversees the Rec Center and Student Union operations.

 “[The reorganization plan] will really just have to be figured out as it’s rolled out,” said Patrick Maloney, former residential life president. “When things stop working correctly, that’s when we need to get pissed off. We can’t do much now. It’s best to be ready to respond to this as it happens, because it is happening.”