Fiscal Mismanagement at Sonoma State University

By Peter Phillips and Noel Byrne

Something is seriously wrong at SSU. Fiscal decisions have been made that benefit administrators and campus buildings at the expense of classroom instruction.

The mission statement for Sonoma State University recognizes that its first obligation is to develop and maintain excellent programs of undergraduate instruction grounded in the liberal arts and sciences. Unfortunately, the funding of undergraduate instruction has been severely mismanaged by the current SSU administration.

Comparative research, between SSU and the other CSU campuses, shows a top-heavy administration and low priorities for classroom instruction that are significantly different from other CSU campuses. For example, SSU spends 76% of its donor gift disbursement distribution on buildings and other projects and only 18% on instructional programs. SSU’s ratio is the exact opposite of all other CSU campuses where the average donor gift disbursement to instructional programs is 63%.

In addition, the Student Faculty Ratio (SFR) among permanent (tenured and tenure-tack) faculty at SSU has continued to increase as more students are enrolled without additional permanent faculty.  In the 1999-2000 school year there were 243 tenure track faculty and 5978 full time students (FTES) for a ratio of 24.1. In the fall of 2008 there were 247 tenure track faculty and 8258 FTES students for a ratio of 33.1.   Only permanent faculty (tenured and tenure track) can advise students.  Accordingly, not only were permanent faculty rendered less accessible to students, but student access to adivising was also proportionately constricted.

SSU does however have the highest number of managers among similar size CSU campuses. When compared to CSU San Marcos, Humbolt, and Bakerfield campuses, each with 7000-8000 students, SSU has double the number of administrative managers. In fact SSU has the same number of high-paid managers as San Jose State University a campus with three times as many students.

Students at SSU pay the third highest fees of all the 23 CSU campuses, yet professor salaries are the lowest in the CSU system. The instructional program at SSU received 70.6% of the general fund money from the State of California in 1999. By 2009 instructional programs shared of state money dropped to only 58.1%. In the same period administrative overhead doubled its share of the general fund budget from 17.8% to 31%.  These fiscal issues are not just due to state budget cuts. These are campus level decisions indicating that the fiscal health of instruction at SSU has been seriously mismanaged inside the institution.

FBI raids and State Attorney General investigations have further compounded the fiscal problems by exposing SSU to ridicule and public embarrassment. Endowment fund losses at SSU were higher in 2009 that any other CSU campus, putting SSU in he top 10% nationally for investment loss. While the administration claims the investments have regained their original values, it was necessary this semester to transfer $950,000 from the Sonoma State Enterprises to the SSU Foundation to  rebuild the endowment reserve fund.

The Green Music Center has drained campus resources for over a decade and will continue to do so for generations.  It is time for the primary budget deciders at SSU to step down and allow others to rebuild the academic mission of the University.

Peter Phillips and Noel Byrne are professors of Sociology at Sonoma State University.

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