University budgets always present a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana said Monday morning while delivering the fall’s convocation speech.
For much of the past six years of financial hardship, it’s been mostly the bad and the ugly.
But in the past two years, he said, “more of the good has appeared.”
That sentiment struck the tone for the convocation, where a number of speakers expressed excitement about the direction the university was headed while also pointing to the many challenges ahead.
The California State University system expects to see an increase in state funding this year as well as the following two. Based on that, Armiñana has proposed making some big changes over the next three years. Those changes include hiring an average of 15 new tenure-track faculty each year; providing grants to faculty for mentoring students in research, internships and other projects; and expanding the university’s advising services. The university this year hired 11 faculty members in disciplines ranging from sociology to biology to business to philosophy. They will help the university meet the needs of its largest-ever student body. Enrollment increased this fall to 9,250 students, up 130 students from last fall.
Armiñana also referenced the venue in which he was speaking, the newly renovated Evert B. Person Theatre. It was one of many campus buildings that have received an upgrade in recent years, he said.
In addition, the 250-seat Schroeder Hall opens to the public this weekend with nearly a dozen free concerts. It will be one of the largest academic spaces on campus, providing a venue for classes, rehearsals, performances and more.
And campus leaders plan to create additional classroom space in the coming years by remodeling the former student union into an international education center. They also plan to convert the former University Commons into a hub for wine business education.
Students won’t see a tuition increase this year, Armiñana said. For several years during the recession, fees soared, riling students who struggled to meet the rising costs. In 2009, for instance, they rose 32 percent and in 2011 they rose by another 23 percent. They’ve been stable since 2012, but students are still struggling, said Anthony Gallino, president of the Associated Students, during his convocation talk.
“Students are not happy about paying more and getting less,” he said.
Other challenges remain too. Among them are pay raises for professors. That issue has hung up efforts to create a new contract for faculty. Their old contract expired June 30 but has twice been extended. It’s set to expire again Tuesday, and negotiations are ongoing at the state level between CSU administrators and the California Faculty Association.
The beginning of class Tuesday won’t be disrupted by the negotiations, said Professor Elaine Newman, president of SSU’s chapter of the California Faculty Association. But if a new contract isn’t achieved by later this fall, around October or November, SSU faculty are planning to take action. Actions could include pickets to inform the community about the situation, she said.
In his speech to faculty, staff and students, Provost Andrew Rogerson looked further into the future. He called on the campus to continue its efforts to change with the times and serve a morphing demographic. SSU students will increasingly attend college part time while also working part-time jobs, he said. They’ll often live with their parents, rather than on campus, and they’ll be older. Nearly half of college students will be aged 25 or older by 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.