Judy Sakaki looks to build her own legacy as Sonoma State’s new president
With the start of fall classes at Sonoma State University only days away, Judy Sakaki - the school’s first new leader in almost a quarter century - is moving to craft her own era for the 56-year-old campus, one that will bridge her predecessor’s legacy of ambitious construction and renovation with greater emphasis on the needs of students, faculty and the local community.
“I see the university as opening doors, and changing lives, but not just changing lives for that individual student but for their family and the whole community, their community,” Sakaki said during an interview last week with The Press Democrat editorial board.
On Monday, Sakaki announced a number of significant changes to help her transform the university’s leadership, including the departure of Larry Furukawa-Schlereth, the school’s vice president of administration and finance and co-executive director of the Green Music Center. Sakaki said Furukawa-Schlereth, after 25 years working for the California State University system, will be retiring.
Furukawa-Schlereth could not be reached Monday for comment about his departure. Sakaki said he will be assisting Steve Relyea, executive vice chancellor and chief financial officer of the CSU system for three months before he retires.
Replacing Furukawa-Schlereth on an interim basis is Stan Nosek, who has previously served as vice chancellor of administration at UC Davis and vice president of administration and finance at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
Nosek’s interim appointment is one of several veterans Sakaki said had retired after illustrious careers but agreed to join her temporarily at Sonoma State to assess its leadership structure and function. None will be candidates for permanent positions.
Sakaki also announced in a memo to the university community that the current vice president of student affairs, Matthew Lopez-Phillips, has been reassigned to serve as associate vice president of student affairs. He will work under the new interim vice president of that department, Michael Young, who served as vice chancellor of student affairs at UC Santa Barbara for 25 years.
“My whole background is student affairs,” Sakaki said. “I came here and the portfolio is not a student affairs portfolio. That’s very clear.” The new president said she has a “passion” for student development and cares deeply about student services such as counseling, health, housing and career development.
Sakaki is Sonoma State’s eighth president and the first Japanese-American woman in the nation to become president of a four-year college. She succeeds the school’s longtime president Ruben Armiñana.
John Welty, president emeritus at Fresno State, will serve as a special advisor on a part-time basis, assisting with the Green Music Center and examining ways the campus can be organized for “greater efficiencies and effectiveness.”
Sakaki had already announced her replacement for the school’s outgoing provost Andrew Rogerson. For temporary provost, Sakaki brought in Jeri Echeverria, retired provost of Fresno State University and former executive vice chancellor of the California State University.
The interim replacement for departing vice president of university advancement Erik Greeny was announced Monday. He is Peter Smits, a 35-year veteran in university advancement and development at Fresno State University.
Sakaki announced the creation of a new and permanent position for her chief of staff. She named Bill Kidder, who served most recently as associate vice chancellor/chief compliance officer and associate provost at UC Riverside.
In the nearly six weeks that she’s been on the job, the new Sonoma State president, who previously served as vice president of student affairs for the entire University of California system, has been making the rounds at the campus. She’s met with students, faculty, administrative and facilities staff, laying the groundwork for her goal of bringing the campus together and creating a student-centered university.
Sakaki said she wants to create a more inclusive environment on campus, where “every single person at the university has a role to play.”
A national search for permanent replacements of cabinet-level positions will be conducted, said Sonoma State spokeswoman Susan Kashack. Once identified, candidates will be interviewed by a committee that includes school faculty members. That committee makes recommendations to Sakaki.
Sakaki described the interim team she has assembled to help her assess the Sonoma State leadership structure: “My style is bringing in people who are at the top of their game. They are emeritus. They’ve left their positions at the top of their career and they have since been called back to help many universities,” she said.