SSU Academic Senate Meeting of 9 December 2021

1. The meeting was convened by Senate Chair Lauren Morimoto.

2. The Chair reported that the Academic Freedom Sub-Committee is considering a statement to meet the challenge of both on-campus and off-campus threats to the academic freedom of individual faculty members. The chair of that Sub-Committee, Cynthia Boaz, is tasked with follow-up on this project.

3. A report from the library faculty member Rita Premo reported on the negotiations at the Chancellor's Office with the university journal publisher Elsevier. Its annual fee has been rising rapidly; Sonoma's share is now about $85K, 12% of its annual acquisitions budget. Our contract expires at the end of the year, but it will be extended until the end of Spring semester, irrespective of the outcome of negotiations.

4. President Sakaki's Report. It was clear that President Sakaki came prepared to listen and respond to criticism she has been hearing about the effectiveness of her leadership as Sonoma State President. Speaking at length on the matter, she asserted that her campaign for student success was not meant to exclude a commitment to faculty and staff success. She acknowledged that there had been insufficient faculty involvement and consultation in at least two recent administrative decisions, although she claimed there had been some consultation on both these matters: the decision to abolish the office Faculty Affairs substituting an administrator dedicated to faculty success within Academic Affairs; and moving Community Engagement from Academic Affairs to the President's Office. Faculty members affected said they had been presented with a fait accompli, and had not been part of a meaningful consultative process.  Questions from faculty members, who had  prepared short speeches in advance, kept the President continually on the defensive. She was asked about the significant increase in the budget for the President's office at a time of budget stringency caused by the decline in student enrollment. She responded that the increase in her office's budget matched similar increases in the other CSU presidents who assumed office when she did. She was also asked about the rapid turnover in administrative positions. This she ascribed to the personal situations of those who had left. Other questions from faculty who came prepared to question had the President on the defensive for the entire meeting, which she attended to its conclusion.

The president was also accused of seeking to drive a wedge between students and faculty. When the student representative to the Senate was asked to comment, there was a reluctance to do so, without consultation with the broader student leadership.  

The President told the Senate that her priority was to preserve instruction, and to prevent lay-off of both faculty and staff. Significant declines in enrollment and yield of admittees, she said, is being addressed by aggressive student admission and retention activity.

5. FSAC reported out on a second reading a revised policy statement on the selection, removal, and duties of department chairs. It emphasizes the chair's role as spokesperson for department faculty.

One significant change to current policy is the addition, by amendment from the floor, of a phrase that prescribes that chairs shail normally serve no more than two consecutive three-year terms. There was clear support for a provision of term limits for chairs to give more faculty members an opportunity to develop leadership skills, as well as fostering a democratic departmental culture. So as to acknowledge the difficulty this may place on small departments, the modifier "normally" was added by amendment to the original amendment establishing term limits.

6. A proposal to establish a policy on the changing of department names was presented for a first reading.

7. In the course of the Senate meeting, one faculty member praised the President for her commitment to Latinx student success. But no one offered a general defense of her administration. The President said she was doing all she could, under very difficult circumstances, and she did not know what else to say.

This was a truly remarkable Senate meeting. Prior SSU Presidents, when faced with the intense criticism of the sort heard on Thursday, have reacted defiantly, dismissing faculty concerns with disdain and contempt. President Sakaki defended her leadership, while admitting mistakes, in a civil and professional way, insisting she was listening. It's anyone's guess what impact this consequential Senate meeting will have on President Sakaki's administration going forward.

Victor Garlin  
Serving as proxy at this meeting for Rick Luttmann, ERFSA  Academic Senator