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Memories of SSU

David Benson

SSU President, 1984-1992

President Nichols, Arminana, and Benson

President Nichols, Arminana, and Benson.

            My academic career began as an instructor at UCLA and was followed by 23 years at California State University, Northridge, where I was a professor of physical education before serving as dean, vice president for academic affairs and executive vice president of the University.

            By the time I was appointed president of Sonoma State I knew a good deal about it and was very pleased to have the opportunity to serve a smaller institution with an educational emphasis on the liberal arts. I knew Sonoma State had experienced conflict between the faculty and the administration and that enrollments were declining. I also knew the interim President Hobart Burns very well because we had served as vice presidents of sister institutions for years. From my talks with him I knew that the institution had very good potential if it could focus its efforts on educational issues and find a way to work well together. My only concern in coming to Sonoma State was whether or not I could gain the trust and confidence of the faculty fast enough to be effective.

            When I arrived I was somewhat surprised to find how easy it was to work with the faculty and staff. Everyone was very civil and supportive and my wife and I responded by hosting various groups in our home. I believe this helped cement a feeling of good will and some degree of trust on the campus. My administrative style seemed to be a good match for Sonoma State; I believe faculty should have the major role in academic decisions and in the development of the curriculum. I certainly had no idea of trying to change the institution in any major way that was contrary to its own traditions and culture.

            One of the first issues that I wanted to address was the declining enrollment by improving the public’s image of the place. It’s very hard to maintain high morale if student enrollment is declining. I can recall going to high schools and meeting with students and principals. I met regularly with school superintendents and the president of Santa Rosa JC. My message was always the same: “Sonoma State is a fine small public university where students can get a very good education.” After a couple of years, the enrollment started to increase and the institution entered a very positive period. A number of new programs were added and departments were able to employ some new faculty.

            I look back at my experience at Sonoma State with a sense of satisfaction and many pleasant memories. The people I worked with were dedicated and enjoyable colleagues, the campus became very attractive to new students across the state and the freshman class increased as new campus housing became available.

            As Sonoma State approaches the 50th anniversary of its founding, it is still a young developing university with great potential and a fine future. I was blessed to be a witness to and a small part of that development.