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Memories of SSU

Hobart "Red" Thomas

Faculty, 1961-1992
Co-Composer of music and lyrics of SSU hymn (1962)

Professor Red Thomas during a noontime outdoor

Professor Red Thomas during a noontime outdoor "gig"

(Excerpted from an interview with Daniel Markwyn, March 17, 1989.)

            I came up here in 1959, about five years before Sonoma State started, with the Santa Rosa Center of San Francisco State. There was an opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary program with about nine or ten other individuals. We worked primarily with training elementary school teachers – students in their junior and senior years. When Amby (Ambrose Nichols) came in 1961, he interviewed each of us in the Center, and we had the option at that point of either going back to San Francisco State or staying on at Sonoma State. All but one of us decided to stay in Sonoma County and work starting the new campus.

            Gordon Tappen and I became the Psychology Department at Sonoma State in the temporary quarters in Rohnert Park. Everything was very informal. If you wanted to have a meeting with someone, it wasn’t a hassle at all. You just knocked on the door and went out to have a cup of coffee together and did your business. We did have committees that had to be set-up. We did everything ad hoc. Everything was a disappearing task force. You got the job done and went o            n to something else.

            The Psychology Department became more established in the late 1960s. Then, Mac McCreary got the idea of starting a cluster school of expressive arts. We pulled together people from different departments and planned informally for a year, sitting around and free-associating about what an ideal school would be like for us. The group included three or four high level students who were committed to new forms of education. The School of Expressive Arts started in 1970. It was a two-year upper-division program. We flourished for several years.

            The Psychology Department seemed to have become too self-centered, and there was a need for students to express who they were out in the world. That was the emphasis in Expressive Arts, to get it out there somehow. It became a kind of holistic educational program, with the emphasis on doing something. We were dealing with self-expression in the next step. Then, the next step beyond that was what is your responsibility to society and the world.

            We were available to the students. I never worked so hard, but I enjoyed it because what I was doing seemed to have immediate relevance. We were there and would be in our offices, and students would come in and we would have small groups. We would spend whole days talking about problems that people were having with their work. Each student was responsible to design his or her program with a faculty member, and then account for it.

            We had many responses from campus. I don’t think very many people understood the program. There were some, like Yvette Fallandy, Jim Enochs and others, that I felt had knowledge of what we were about—that it wasn’t just a flaky kind of laisse-faire type of situation. The most important thing about it for me was that it was very valuable for students who were high-level people in terms of knowing where they wanted to go, having a lot of creativity, a lot of individuality and a lot of originality, and could then go full blast into the stuff in which they were really involved.

            We didn’t have a decline in enrollment until Diamondopoulos announced he was going to phase Expressive Arts out and laid off two of our faculty members. In all fairness, I think that we were at a point then when we needed to reorganize and find new forms.