Update from the President Sept. 2, 2020

Sept. 2, 2020

Dear Campus Community,

I’m delighted to welcome you to a new academic year at Sonoma State.

This is a year that feels truly new. It’s one that will be marked by new academic experiences, new blueprints for building campus community, and even new life lessons for us all – whether we’re students, faculty, or staff. It’s a year that we will remember clearly in the years to come: one in which many of us will live and work apart from one another, and one in which new ideas and genuinely new ways of working and learning together will help bridge the gap of physical distance.

Two weeks ago, at our first ever virtual university convocation, I spoke about how the pandemic – even as it tragically impacts our global community – has offered us a new opportunity to imagine Sonoma State as it should be, and could be, in the years ahead. Likewise, Interim Provost Moranski in her remarks talked about the unparalleled opportunity we have to genuinely make things better in whatever future we choose to create.

As we begin this new academic year at our university, I ask you to join us in making the dream of an even stronger, more positive, and more equitable Sonoma State a reality. The last several months have both revealed and underscored all that we can make better together, both on campus and in the world around us. From vast wildfires to the vast reach of Covid-19, and from our national reckoning on anti-Black violence to powerful protests across the country, this is the time to dream big.

I look forward to affirming our common purpose as Seawolves this year, and I am filled with hope by what we already have achieved in the past few unprecedented months.

Our Seawolf Community – Fall 2020

A new academic year always brings excitement, and that is no less true this fall. Our faculty have worked all summer to prepare high-quality, engaging courses that use the resources of remote instruction to help students succeed. My hat is off to our faculty for their incredible work and to the staff who are ensuring our students have the academic and personal resources they need to learn, cope successfully with change, and build community. Approximately 950 students and 50 faculty and staff members are also teaching and learning in hybrid courses at Sonoma State and out in the community this fall. Their safe physical presence on campus and at clinical sites is the result of months of hard work by our campus Academic and Operational Continuity Planning Groups. Thanks to the effort of these dedicated planning group members, we are able to ensure that all learning, living, and working arrangements will be managed with the least risk and with the health and safety of all paramount. 

As we head into the fall and winter months, I strongly encourage you to continue prioritizing your own health and safety – including taking the time to get a flu shot to minimize additional health risks beyond Covid-19.

While our campus leadership manages the health and safety challenges presented by the pandemic, we are also managing the severe budget decline that Sonoma State currently faces. A 10% reduction in state revenue has necessitated, in turn, budget cuts at the campus department level.

We also had to notify about 50 Sonoma State employees about lay-offs for lack of work. This was an extremely difficult decision that neither I nor anyone at the presidential cabinet level wanted to make. HR is actively working with our unions to identify opportunities for our laid off employees. So far, a dozen of the individuals who were laid off have been reclassified to other positions on campus.

Enrollment is Key to the Future of Sonoma State

One of the most important factors in our budget decline is enrollment. More than half of the budget deficit is directly attributable to decline of 1,750 headcount over the last two years. Moving forward, one of the most important things we can do is grow enrollment, particularly for our undergraduate populations. We must identify new populations of students, increase our outreach to our local region, work actively with community colleges, and ensure our academic programs meet the educational, social, and workforce needs of California and the nation.

We must ensure our campus is a welcoming space where low-income and underrepresented students know they belong and can succeed. We must continue reducing barriers to graduation and ensure our continuing students stay through to graduation. Groups all across campus, including our faculty, our Academic Affairs administrators, our Strategic Enrollment staff, and our Student Affairs staff are developing new strategies, dedicating time and resources to increase our numbers. My Cabinet and I view increasing enrollment as one of the most important initiatives we are undertaking this academic year.

LNU Lightening Complex Fires

As an update to what I shared last week, I want to make clear that our physical campus remains safe from the LNU Lightening Complex Fires, and that we are continuing to monitor the air quality and its potential impact on Sonoma State students, faculty, and staff. We’re grateful to the many hardworking firefighters who have fought the flames these past few weeks, and are hopeful that full containment of the fires will be reached after Labor Day.

In coordination with Sonoma County and at the request of the state of California, our campus has also opened a Referral Center for families displaced by these terrible fires. We’re especially grateful to our staff members in entrepreneurial services, emergency services, facilities, UPD, and business continuity for supporting this community effort, and for ensuring that our campus stays safe during this difficult time.

New Programming at the Green Music Center

I’m pleased to share the wonderful news that the Green Music Center will announce its Fall Season of online programming later this week. Entitled The Green Room, this virtual programming format is inspired by the tradition of theater “green rooms” – backstage lounges where performers relax – and will feature conversations with artists as well as performances to enjoy from the comfort of home. Free tickets for Sonoma State students are available, as are Arts Integration opportunities and tickets and artist virtual visits to classes via Zoom.

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for a virtual benefit event, Party for the Green – New Orleans style, on September 26!

Seawolf Recognition

I’m thrilled to congratulate Department of Psychology faculty member Dr. Matthew Paolucci-Callahan for his recognition as a CSU Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award winner! Dr. Paolucci-Callahan received this honor for his work on removing barriers to student success, including conducting workshops to mitigate implicit gender bias and modify teaching processes to better support underrepresented STEM students.

I’m also delighted to recognize English Professor Gillian Conoley, whose book, “A Little More Red Sun on the Human: New and Selected Poems,” was named a California Book Awards finalist for a medal in poetry this summer. Congratulations, Professor Conoley!

And it’s with great pleasure that I share the news that Sonoma State student Wyatt Huber has been selected as a prestigious CSU Sally Casanova Scholar – a scholarship program that supports students who hope to earn doctoral degrees. Wyatt is both a former Coast Guard and a first-generation college student at Sonoma State. Please join me in congratulating him on this remarkable achievement!

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Sonoma State

I’m heartened that our urgent, campus-wide effort to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion at SSU is making real progress despite the pandemic. I want to make clear that I consider this effort a top priority for our Sonoma State community not only for the 2020 – 2021 academic year, but also in the years ahead.

In the tumultuous aftermath of George Floyd’s death, our President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity, Equity, Campus Climate, and Inclusion has worked even harder to develop the necessary resources and bring in the necessary voices to help us work towards true equality on our campus. Most recently this work has included the planned implementation of a campus-wide climate study this fall for faculty, staff, and students, as well as new recommendations from the Dismantling Intersectional Structural Hierarchies (DISH) subcommittee to cultivate the process of racial healing at Sonoma State.

In the next few days, you will hear from Sonoma State’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Jerlena Griffin-Desta, who will share more detailed information about these and other DEI efforts – all of which will be inventoried on our new DEI website, which goes live next week.

Looking Ahead

As I reflect on all the interconnected challenges we currently face – from Covid-19, to systemic racism, to the impact of climate change on our beautiful North Bay – I’m mindful of how overwhelmed many of us may feel, and how much we may be grieving for an academic year that feels more like academic years we’ve experienced in the past.

I share that sense of loss, and there are days when, I, too, feel a little incredulous at all we must make better in the months to come. However, I also feel powerfully inspired by the new dreams and new hopes that this unfamiliar year offers us. I am energized by the integrity and passion of our campus community, and I have faith in what we can achieve together.

The poet and social justice activist Audre Lorde once wrote, “To acknowledge our dreams is sometimes to acknowledge the distance between those dreams and our present situation. Acknowledged, our dreams can shape the realities of our future, if we arm them with the hard work and scrutiny of now.”

I believe in Lorde’s words, and I believe in each one of you. Our present situation may feel uncomfortable – even painful. But our dreams can shape the realities of our future, and I believe firmly that we at Sonoma State are ready to arm them with the hard work and scrutiny of now.

With gratitude,

Judy K. Sakaki signature

Judy K. Sakaki