Memories of SSU
Professor of Economics
Arriving at Sonoma State College in 1970
Coming to Sonoma State College in the fall of 1970, I found a tolerant, welcoming community, whose faculty included a liberal sprinkling of unusual people: talented, creative, imaginative, experienced, and productive. Some were academic refugees who had left stale collegiate environments in search of fresh air, or who were intellectually unconventional and seeking a supportive environment. There were combat veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, survivors of Nazi concentration camps or American relocation camps for Japanese-Americans. Others had been involved with loyalty-oath fights, un-American Activities Committees, or other manifestation of cold-war anti-communism. There were active participants in the Women’s, Civil Rights and Anti-War movements, closeted gays and lesbians, even a few people of color; in short, there were many people at the College who had personally experienced active engagement in the struggles of their time.
Many of the faculty who were hired when I was were like me, recent University of California or Stanford PhDs, or PhD candidates completing a dissertation. From the perspective of the College, these graduates were accessible, and once hired, helped recruit other faculty. Newer departments could consist primarily of these graduates, although original departments consisted mainly of established academics who had come from other colleges. Although Sonoma’s early faculty was decidedly not ethnically diverse, it was socially quite diverse. Unusual for the time, women faculty were especially active in faculty governance and important in the College’s institutional life.
From its beginnings, the College faced hostility from the local business community. Adding a politically engaged faculty to a student body that was a heady mixture of traditional-age students, Vietnam Vets, re-entry women, hippies, and squares, during a time of intense national political and cultural ferment caused, not surprisingly, the local elite that had promoted the development of the College to believe that it had gotten burned. In fact, some in this elite viewed the College as the local venue for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The more benign characterizations were Frisbee U or Granola U.
The College was in turmoil when I arrived as a new faculty member in August of 1970. The previous spring the founding president, Ambrose Nichols, had been forced out. A local ad hoc organization, the Friends of Sonoma State College, founded initially with Nichols’ encouragement, had been captured by those who were alarmed by activities at the College. It orchestrated a campaign alleging that the College was out of administrative control, in the hands of hippies, radicals, counter-cultural types, and that it was generally out of touch with the needs, values, and social preferences of the College’s local community. This group had convinced the member of the Statewide Board of Trustees, primarily responsible for Trustees' oversight of the College, that a new president was needed, and the rest followed.
After Nichols announced that he would leave the presidency after the spring semester, a presidential selection committee was elected by the faculty. Its chair was Yvette Fallandy, professor of French. While this committee was still soliciting names, the Trustees appointed Earl Jones, a political associate of the president of San Francisco State College, S.I. Hayakawa, who had become prominent as a battler of student protest and who would eventually be elected a Republican senator from California. This appointment was made without the knowledge or consent of the faculty presidential selection committee. The committee vigorously objected to this appointment, and Fallandy led the campus campaign to reject Jones’ leadership. A few faculty sought to welcome Jones; others counseled accepting the reality of Jones’ presence. At the fall faculty convocation, there was only scattered applause when he was introduced, and an audible sigh of relief when the reassuring baritone of Jim Enochs, longtime vice president for academic affairs resounded through 119 Ives Hall. The faculty adopted a posture of passive resistance to the Jones administration, and as a practical matter the campus went about its affairs under Enochs’ steady hand. During the fall semester Jones announced that he would not be a candidate for the permanent appointment as president.
Concurrently, the chancellor’s office reviewed the negative claims made by the Friends. The investigation was headed by Thomas McGrath, a senior administrator in the Chancellor’s Office. The report substantiated a few claims, but generally supported the College. McGrath subsequently was appointed the College’s second permanent president. During his tenure Jim Enochs was elevated to executive vice president and Yvette Fallandy replaced him as vice president for academic affairs.
Epilogue: After two unremarkable presidents, Marjorie Downing Wagner and Lloyd Johns, Peter Diamandopoulos was appointed president in 1977. He disregarded the traditions and the rules of the College, and it was placed on its Censured List by the American Association of University Professors. After a vote of no-confidence by the faculty, Diamandopoulos was fired by the Trustees in l983. The AAUP censure was removed during the presidency of David Benson, who served capably until his retirement in 1992, replaced by the current president, Ruben Armiñana. His administration is a story in itself and it is still unfolding.
My legacy is the thousands of students I taught during my 37 years on the faculty, 13 years of continuous service on the academic senate, and ten years as president of the Sonoma Chapter of the California Faculty Association.
My fondest memories will always be the students and faculty with whom I worked in common cause during my time at Sonoma State University.