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SSU emerging from difficult stretch

  • SSU President Dr. Ruben Arminana speaks during the convocation at Weill Hall on the Sonoma State University campus in Rohnert Park, on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ PD)

The Sonoma State University's academic senate held its annual start-of-the-year convocation Monday amid a sense of guarded optimism absent for many years.

In the past 12 months the economy has slowly improved. Voters passed a ballot measure tax to help fund higher education. The California State University has a new chancellor, Timothy White, with whom faculty representatives have a far better relationship. The tension that often gripped SSU's campus in the past decade continues to ease.

“Things could be a hell of a lot better, but they've been a hell of a lot worse,” SSU political science professor Andy Merrifield, who is president of the California Faculty Association, said in his speech Monday to about 200 people in Weill Hall, the heart of the $140 million Green Music Center.

SSU Convocation

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SSU's past year had its inevitable controversies: one involved racial slurs; another religious discrimination. Faculty members railed at how the administration handled the removal of asbestos from Stevenson Hall. The university also was sharply criticized when it shut down a free mental health clinic.

Still, the SSU community demonstrated it's ability to come together and define itself as it wants to be, suggested Faculty Chairwoman Margaret Purser, who spoke about how people can create places that are more than brick and mortar buildings by choosing what they want to do in those places and how.

Recalling the February incident when a black student employee in the dining hall found the N-word slur written on a Black History Month flier, Purser focused on what followed.

So many students, faculty members and staff showed up at a hastily convened evening meeting, she recalled, that it had to be moved “on the fly,” with chairs gathered from other facilities and a larger room found, “remaking the place to fit the need.”

“For the people who participated, and for many who heard about it all afterwards, these two linked events will always be part of what they remember” about SSU Purser said, “and what they think of when someone asks them, 'What kind of place is Sonoma State University?”

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