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Ruben Armi?na's 19-year presidency at Sonoma State has been defined by campus strides, faculty friction and his unflinching vision

  • SSU President Ruben Arminana speaks of the need to incorporate new technology during a meeting of the PresidentÕs Advisory Board on Friday.

Ruben Armi?na was 14, verging on chubby, and, as he tells it five decades later, had only a dime in his pocket.

It was Nov. 6, 1961, and he was saying goodbye to his parents, preparing to enter "the fishbowl," a glassed-in departure lounge at Cuba's Jose Marti International Airport.

He was one of 14,000 Cuban children extracted from post-revolution Communist Cuba in the U.S.-sponsored Operation Peter Pan. Armi?na would not see his parents for nine years.

SSU President Ruben Armi?na

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Before he left, he promised them two things.

"I will go to college," he said. "And nobody will ever bully me into anything."

Today, at age 64, he is in many ways still in a fishbowl: the presidency of Sonoma State University.

When he arrived at the Rohnert Park campus 19 years ago, SSU depended largely on commuter students and was among California State University sites being considered for closure because of faltering enrollment. Now 10 students apply for every available seat at SSU and Armi?na is its longest-serving president.

"And I have kept those promises," he said.

Armi?na's mother used to call him "cabeza dura," or hard head, and Armi?na says she was right. "In some ways I have the temper, the temperament of a Cuban," he said. Indeed, he says, many years ago in New Orleans, he brandished an empty revolver at a man who was threatening him, ending the confrontation.

A refusal to be turned aside from his goals has been his signature as SSU's chief executive and he has attained largely what he set out to do.


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